A film review by Craig J. Koban December 18, 2017

RANK: #19


2017, R, 105 mins.


Dave Franco as Greg  /  James Franco as Tommy  /  Seth Rogen as Sandy  /  Ari Graynor as Juliette  /  Alison Brie as Amber  /  Jacki Weaver as Carolyn

Directed by James Franco  /  Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Like Tim Burton's ED WOOD before it, the infectiously entertaining THE DISASTER ARTIST is a fact based comedy about a spectacularly awful filmmaker that also happens to be spectacularly passionate about making films, despite his genuine lack of talent.  

Of course, I'm talking about the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, producer, star and financial backer of the 2003 drama THE ROOM, a film that took me three tries to get through, but once finished I realized what a special class of aggressive mediocrity it achieved.   Oftentimes cited as the "CITIZEN KANE of bad movies," THE ROOM has surprisingly amassed a midnight screening cult following over the last 15 years that would rival THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.  THE DISASTER ARTIST, directed, produced, and starring James Franco (as Wiseau), chronicles how THE ROOM was not only made, but how one of the most artistically inept films ever committed to celluloid became so oddly adored.  

Franco was inspired by the book THE DISASTER ARTIST, co-written by THE ROOM co-star Greg Sestero about his time meeting Wiseau, becoming friends and business partners with him, and how the actual production and subsequent release of the film went.  Wiseau has always been an intriguing - if not flamboyantly bizarre - figure of interest, especially considering his refusal to disclose his country of origin, true ethnic heritage, and even age (sporting a beyond obvious European accent, the filmmaker has frequently and laughably stated that he grew up in Louisiana), not to mention how he amassed a small fortune to fund THE ROOM's eye rollingly incredulous $6 million budget (to watch it you'd think it cost six bucks).  All of this, of course, makes both Wiseau and THE ROOM more intrinsically compelling than arguably any other terrible movie in existence.  The finest aspect of THE DISASTER ARTIST is that Franco and company find a very delicate and hard to traverse line of mocking and showing great affection for their targets.  There's an underlining poignancy and charm about this story of a steadfastly driven man that's absolutely confident in his abilities to create...even when everyone around him thinks he doesn't belong within ten miles of a movie set. 



Rather wisely, THE DISASTER ARTIST also places emphasis on Sestero himself, who back in the late 1990s and early 2000s was a struggling actor with questionable skills that desperately wanted to make a name for himself and be a star.  This, no doubt, is what arguably allowed him to become ensnared in Wiseau's remarkably odd, but ethereal and Svengali-like charisma and mindset that "anything is possible if one has a dream to peruse."  In a highly noteworthy bit of casting, Franco cast his own younger brother Dave in the Sestero role, which allows for a bit of meta commentary on their own professional relationship as siblings (Dave, a fine actor in his own right, has lived under the shadow of James, much as Sestero has lived under Wiseau's).  As THE DISASTER ARTIST opens we meet Sestero having a thespian meet cute, so to speak, with Wiseau in a San Francisco acting class.  Sestero is clearly an intimidated and shy performer on stage, which makes him all the more intrigued when he sees Wiseau throwing absolute caution to the wind with his own rendition of the most famous Marlon Brando moment in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE that needs to be seen to be believed. 

Sestero bolsters up the courage to talk to Wiseau after class, seemingly unafraid that the man looks, more or less, like a cross between Dracula, Jim Morrison, and Tom Hidelston's Loki.  That, and Sestero seems to turn a blind eye to Wiseau's suspicious habit of refusing to answer questions about his past and how he's able, for example, to have multiple lavish apartments in multiple cities.  The pair, though, become inseparable friends with Wiseau deciding to allow his younger friend to move in with him in LA to peruse Hollywood superstardom.  After crushing failures strike them both at casting calls (more for Wiseau, seeing as he's too frankly chillingly weird for most agents), Wiseau takes Sestero literally by his nonchalant advice that they should just make their own movie.   

THE ROOM, as they proverbially say, was born. 

One of the singular pleasures of watching THE DISASTER ARTIST occurs in the middle sections of the film that showcase Wiseau's lust to get his passion project off the ground, even though he possesses absolutely no knowledge of how to produce and direct a feature film.  He has three things going for him in spades: (1) a limitless well of self-confidence and drive, (2) equally unlimited money and (3) a firm belief that he was making an ultimate American story of friendship, love and betrayal on the same level of his idol Tennessee Williams.  As his wingman, Sestero loyally follows his benefactor and BFF through and through, but when the production begins and it appears that Wiseau has next to zero qualifications to appear in front of and behind the camera, Sestero soon realizes that THE ROOM - built on the promises of hope - will indeed be an epic and disastrous bomb. 

Some of the best laughs to be had in THE DISASTER ARTIST are from the double take reactions from most of the sane and level headed members of Wiseau's film crew (Seth Rogen appears in a small role as THE ROOM's script supervisor that's featured in arguably the film's slyest moment when he appears genuinely shocked that his first paycheck from his boss didn't bounce upon cashing it at his bank).  Other moments of hilarity ensue during THE ROOM's rocky production, such as one sidesplitting moment featuring Wiseau insisting that his own rear end be visible in a sex scene (almost as if no other actor in history has done so before) and how infamously he fails to target his co-stars groin region in said scene ("Is he aiming for her belly button?  He knows where a vagina is, right," asks one stupefied crew hand).  Even well before THE ROOM shoot Franco's film finds humor in moments of absolutely humiliation for Wiseau, especially in one hard to bare moment when he embarrasses and annoys a movie executive at a posh restaurant while he's eating (played by Judd Apatow, who ironically jump started Franco's career).  "You'll never make it.  Not in a million years," screams the hostile mogul, to which Tommy pitifully and idiotically replies, "But after that?" 

James Franco's performance as Wiseau is eerie in its accuracy.  It's not just a one note bit of mimicry.  He emboldens himself to every nagging and looming contradiction that has dogged this doomed filmmaker and star for years.  With his inky black mane of hair, pearly skin, dead eyed stare, and overall loopy disposition, Wiseau emerges as a fully realized creation on Franco's watch, and watching the committed actor fully inhabit this man while not making him a simplistic and easy to mock buffoon is to his esteemed credit.  Another minor miracle about his work as Wiseau is that, when it boils right down to it, he's able to make a fairly repellent character oddly and eccentrically likeable, which is crucial to ensuring that audience members thoroughly root him and Sestero on for potential success, followed by failure, and then shockingly to success again.  The key element that Franco gets about Wiseau - which is the true heart of the movie - is his never-look-back gumption to make art in spite of everyone telling him he's a talentless fool.  You just gotta respect that kind of tunnel visioned drive. 

Franco undoubtedly gives the performance of his career as Wiseau and deserves serious Oscar nomination consideration, but his little brother Dave should not be overlooked for what's arguably the trickiest performance in THE DISASTER ARTIST, playing not only the audience conduit for all of the madness surrounding THE ROOM, but for also playing straight man to Wiseau's unique brand of unintentionally hysterical strangeness.  Sestero in the film is a doomed persona in the sense that he's driven to remain loyal to Wiseau while realizing that this man may be no good for him in the long run.  THE DISASTER ARTIST also has a solid string of supporting actors all making brief, but sizable cameos, some of which include Zac Efron, Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Melanie Griffith, and Josh Hutcherson.  If there were one weakness to the film then it would be in the manner that it sidelines some of them with unfulfilling character arcs and subplots, like an underdeveloped one involving Alison Brie playing Sestero's girlfriend that adds very little to the proceedings at all. 

I also wished that THE DISASTER ARTIST focused a bit more on the editing process of THE ROOM, which would have easily been as entertaining of a train wreck to watch as the production itself.  I also question whether or not the real Wiseau was as instantly accepting of his baby and finished product being embraced as a side-splitting comedy at its premiere.  His unimpeachable passion, however, is what's wonderfully translated here by Franco, and you gain a sense by the film's end (which shows meticulous recreations of THE ROOM juxtaposed right next to the film's actual screens in split screen form) that the artists behind THE DISASTER ARTIST has the same unstoppable infatuation with his underline material.   Most importantly, this film relays Wiseau's internalized fear of rejection and dread of creative inadequacy, but nevertheless he soldiered on and refused to quit on his dreams of being a filmmaker.  Yes, he may have been widely delusion and more than a bit crazy, but he  found massive amounts of unlikely success in failing miserably in the industry, and now THE ROOM is played the world over to sold out crowds.  This is why THE DISASTER ARTIST is so heart-warmingly uplifting while also being a celebration of cinematic incompetence. 

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