I would love for James Franco to take on the behind-the-scenes drama of the making of 2015’s “Fantastic Four;” the stories from that are incredible.
“The Disaster Artist” depicts the making of “The Room,” the 2003 film that is so awful that is has gained a cult status and is widely accepted as the worst movie of all-time. James Franco (who also directs) stars as Tommy Wiseau, the writer/director/producer/star of “The Room” while his real-life brother Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, who co-wrote the memoir on which this film is based. Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver also star among a dozen other celebrity cameos.
I am a big fan of “The Room” and got on the ironic watching train relatively early. “The Disaster Artist” has been on my watchlist for a while and all last year I was hoping it would get a release date (they finished filming in January 2016). It never came, but finally did screen at South by Southwest Festival this past March before getting its award-friendly December release. I love movies about movies (“La La Land,” “Hail, Caesar”) and adore a lot of people in this cast, so the fact I didn’t love “The Disaster Artist” is a bit of a letdown but it is still an admirable film about the creative process and following one’s dreams.
People give James Franco a bad rap. He makes a lot of movies and not all of them are good, but just like Nicolas Cage I don’t think it’s fair to fault a man because he loves movies and enjoys being in as many as possible. Even in Franco’s lesser works (like last December’s “Why Him?”) he brings a dedicated energy to the screen and in a way he is the perfect person to portray Tommy Wiseau. Franco is almost playing a caricature of Wiseau, between the long black hair, chuckle laugh and indistinguishable accent, but it isn’t as scene-chewing as one may fear. We feel for Tommy as much as we slightly fear him simply because we know so little about him, his motives and his true origins (much less his actual age).
Dave Franco’s Greg is a starving actor who moves to Los Angeles with Tommy to seek stardom. Greg is as close to a voice of the audience as we get, as he tries to keep Tommy at an arms-distance due to the shroud of mystery that surrounds him but at the same time pities him.
Seth Rogen brings his typical charm(?) to the film and it is fun (but also somewhat distracting) to see an actor you know pop up in a random scene (Zac Efron is absolutely brilliant in his one sequence as Chris-R, the drug dealer character from “The Room”).
The film’s constant reliance on cameos and inside jokes is one of its pitfalls, however, as it creates some inconsistent pacing and at times it felt like Franco wanted to include one of his friends in his movie so he constructed a scene involving them just to get them on-board.
One of the running pop culture jokes is that no one truly does know anything about Tommy Wiseau, where he came from, what sort of accent he has or where he got the $6 million to finance his movie (I personally subscribe to the theory that he is D.B. Cooper, the man who hijacked a plane in 1971 and escaped with $200,000, look it up). “The Disaster Artist” consistently has characters ask these questions of and to Tommy but we never get an answer; it’s funny at first but by the end it seems almost lazy that nothing is actually explained, even in a joking manner.
“The Disaster Artist” is no “Ed Wood” in that is does not delve into the psyche of a filmmaker who is so incompetent in his craft that we come to understand why he even tried. However it scrapes the surface of the bizarreness of went into the making of the best worst movie ever (some of the book’s most intriguing stories are left out) and gives James Franco plenty of room to play a character who was just trying to make a movie because he wanted to make a movie; and maybe, in more ways than one, that is a role that he can relate to on a personal level.
Critics Rating: 6/10