Review: “The Disaster Artist”

4 out of 5 stars.

I never thought I’d see the day that a movie was made about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room,” one of the worst and most bizarre movies of all time. I especially never thought that the film about the making of said movie would be so great, but here we are. Over a decade after Wiseau paid theaters to keep playing the film he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in for an extra couple of weeks so it could qualify for the Academy Awards, the film about his film, “The Disaster Artist,” is a shoe-in to scoop up some Oscar nominations this year. Go figure.

Directed by James Franco and based on the book of the same name by Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend and “The Room” costar, “The Disaster Artist” opens in 1998 San Francisco, in an acting class attended by both Sestero (Dave Franco) and Wiseau (played by James himself). Sestero wants to be an actor more than anything, but he’s timid. When Wiseau gets up in front of the class and engages in an over-the-top interpretation of a scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Sestero admires his fearlessness, and immediately engages him to help him be a better actor. He takes a liking to the strange and mysterious man, who has a thick, hard-to-place European accent but claims to be from Louisiana, and has a seemingly bottomless bank account, but won’t say where his money comes from, and claims to be Sestero’s age (19), but is most definitely older. It isn’t long before Sestero and Wiseau move to LA together, with big dreams to become big stars.

It takes a lot of time before we get to the part where, after a couple of years of getting no where, Wiseau and Sestero become fed up with Hollywood and decide to make their own movie. But Franco does a good job keeping this part of the movie as interesting as the making of that cult favorite, and it’s integral to understanding these characters. Tommy is wonderfully bizarre; the film is hilarious, and much of Tommy’s behavior is played for laughs, which might make you question the target of the jokes, but not for long. We don’t really get to know Franco’s Tommy that well, in large part because so little is known about the real life Tommy. But Franco, as both a director and a performer, gives us some pivotal little moments that reveal Tommy’s insecurities about himself and his career, without ever losing sight of his ultimate goal of making it big.

Of course the making of “The Room” is the highlight of the movie, with Tommy’s increasingly erratic behavior throughout the shoot causing the tone to shift from funny to uncomfortable as the film progresses. You don’t have to have seen “The Room” to enjoy this film and its humorous take on filmmaking and Hollywood, but I do highly recommend it so as to fully appreciate Franco’s performance and the painstaking detail put in to recreating so many scenes from “The Room” (in fact, at the end of the film we see Franco’s version of scenes from the movie played next to actual scenes from “The Room,” and the resemblance is astonishing).

The cast features a bevy of cameos, from Judd Apatow to Bryan Cranston, with actors like Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson in supporting roles as the actors in “The Room.” The cast also includes Alison Brie as Greg’s girlfriend Amber, Jacki Weaver and Ari Graynor as the actresses playing Lisa and Claudette, Paul Scheer as DP Raphael, and Seth Rogen as script supervisor Sandy, who claims that he is the real director of “The Room,” as Tommy often didn’t pull his weight. But it’s the inspired casting of real-life brothers James and Dave Franco as close friends Tommy and Greg that really makes this movie work, and even makes these often unbelievable events and people believable. They bring a lot of love and a lot of tension to their characters and their relationship with each other, so that we understand why Greg stays close to Tommy for so long, even when most people would walk out. Dave is great, as is James, giving his best performance since his film “127 Hours.” In many ways, James Franco, with his established reputation for being a bit quirky, a bit of a Hollywood outsider, is the best person to play Wiseau, and he plays him not as someone to laugh at (although we often do), not as a caricature, but as someone he has a genuine affection for.

And a lot of people have affection for “The Room” and Wiseau in real life. If you’ve seen “The Room”, you know what a bizarre phenomenon of a film it is, whether you love it or hate it. It plays to regular sold out midnight screenings in theaters across the country; Wiseau often attends them and is greeted like a rock star. “The Disaster Artist” may end up taking somewhat of a conventional route at telling the tale of such an unconventional man, but it does make it clear that, while Wiseau and Sestero may not have achieved fame the way they initially envisioned, in the end they got what they wanted and more.

Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated R.

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