Tommy Wiseau is an interesting fellow. James Franco impeccably captures the nuances of this man in The Disaster Artist. Where Franco began and ended with his Wiseau wizardry is spellbinding. To say Wiseau is quite a character, well that is putting it mildly. He has a mysterious accent. Nobody knows exactly where he hails from and the money he possesses that allows him to do whatever he wants, well, it’s not exactly clear where that comes from and how it keeps flowing.
Nearly 20 years ago, Wiseau struck up an unlikely, yet fateful, friendship with Greg Sestero. The two met in an acting class and decided to do what so many have done — follow their dreams of movie stardom and head to Hollywood and make a go of it. Upon arrival, it wasn’t exactly streets paved with gold. But these dreamers never gave up and when push came to shove, they decided to make their own movie with Wiseau financing it and their gift to the world was the cult classic The Room.
Considered the worst movie of all time, since its release in 2003, it has become a fan favorite, playing to sold out houses at midnight showings across the land.
Sestero teamed with Tom Bissell and penned The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, a book that chronicled the making of the film that everyone loves to hate. When James Franco came across it, he heeded its call and made the story his passion project. Not only would he produce it, but he would direct it, star in it and co-write the script with Michael H. Weber. The result is a bevy of brilliance and a salute to everyone who has come to Hollywood with a dream of seeing their vision on the big screen, hoping to bring joy to legions of audiences who sit in the dark, ready to be whisked away.
James’ brother Dave Franco portrays Greg and the two immediately grab our collective lapels as the film commences and do not let go for over two hours or hilarious, mesmerizing and unforgettable fun and folly.
The Disaster Artist is unabashedly one of the best films of 2017 and if you think about that for a moment, it is something to marvel. This is a movie about making a movie that was, as the moniker of the film states, a disaster. Yet, it is a love letter in every way to the entire experience that was bringing The Room to life for Tommy and Greg. These two achieved their dreams and in that journey, Franco has delivered the most surprisingly inspiring tales for anyone who has any kind of aspirations, regardless of where those dreams reside.
One can tell that as soon as the script was completed, everyone wanted to be a part of this flick… regardless of how big or small the role. Longtime Franco collaborator Seth Rogen turns in his best performance in years as Sandy, a high-ranking member of the production team whose frustrations with the day-to-day set life under the leadership of Wiseau went from pull your hair out dismay to “whatever you want Tommy, your checks are clearing.” Dave Franco’s wife, Allison Brie, plays an onscreen love interest of her real-life beau who comes to the realization that she cannot compete with the lure of Greg’s acting aspirations and his larger-than-life friend/collaborator with the long black hair and outrageous speaking tone.
Ari Graynor shows how she is one of Hollywood’s most underused assets with her turn as the female lead of The Room, Juliette. She impeccably captures the ingenue/fresh off the bus Hollywood wanna-be starlet who thinks she has just landed the role of a lifetime. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) dazzles as Philip in a role that finds him literally losing himself in it and reminds us what Gary Ross first saw in the actor when he was cast as Peta all those years ago.
A who’s-who fills out the cast list, including Sharon Stone, Oscar nominee Jackie Weaver, Zac Efron, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Melanie Griffith and Hannibal Buress. Each keenly knows the magic movie moment they are a part of, and it is a treasure trove of talent sweeping the audience away and achieving what on paper seems like the impossible.
Often, movies about making movies fall flat or only work for those of us who work in the business. The “insider-ness” of it all can backfire immensely. But what Franco and company have achieved with The Disaster Artist is make a film that makes each soul sitting in the dark enjoying their film feel like an insider. We are all in on the joke, even if the man at the center of what is producing those laughs is unaware that his eccentricities is what is producing all those smiles.
James Franco has always struck us as a dreamer, so his kinship with Wiseau is hardly surprising. What does cause shock and awe is his utter command of the “character” of Tommy, as well as simultaneously serving as the visionary bringing someone else’s vision to life in a manner that does not use Wiseau’s peculiarities as the only bridge to laughs. The entire Hollywood landscape is ripe for producing humor in this picture. Director Franco masterfully weaves a web that is as inclusive as it is insightful in how the film serves as an inspirational tale for those who want more out of their life and know deep down in their soul that with enough perseverance and a sprinkle of talent, anything can happen.
Portraying a real-life person for an actor is always a slippery slope, riddled with dangers and pratfalls. When that person is a larger-than-life individual that millions of people think they know, it borderlines on a potentially thankless mission. Franco delivers an Oscar nomination worthy (if he is not nominated, it would be one of the great snubs in Academy history) performance that is a tribute to the artist as much as it is an enigma-adding layer to the mystery that is the man. Acting classes will be showcasing this turn for decades to come, especially when there is The Room to compare it to. In fact, during the closing credits Franco includes several real scenes from The Room and places what he and his ensemble captured next to them. It is not imitation, that would not work for the story, the audience or anybody. These performers are so inside their characters they are at one with these real people who are, it must be noted, in the middle of portraying someone else themselves.
Yes, it’s a little mind boggling to think about the layers that went into the making of this movie on a multitude of scales. The thing is, it all could have gone horribly wrong. It, in fact, results in just the opposite.
There is brilliance, and then there is The Disaster Artist.