When I first heard that James Franco was making a movie about the making of what some say is the best worst movie of all-time, I decided I wanted to see Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” without first checking-out 2003’s cult classic “The Room”. That turned-out to be a smart decision.
Having no emotional ties to the original subject matter provides the freedom to fully appreciate this charming, true-story tribute. Franco not only directs, but also stars in “The Disaster Artist” as Tommy Wiseau, the mysterious mastermind behind “The Room”. And his real-life brother Dave plays Tommy’s friend and filmmaking partner Greg.
The two meet in acting school in San Francisco. They move out to Hollywood together in 1998 in hopes of becoming big-time movie stars. But when constant rejection hits them hard, they decide to make and star in their own movie instead. They hire actors and a crew and buy all the equipment they need (with Tommy insisting on shooting in both 35mm and digital).
Wiseau provides all the funding – though no one has a clue where he’s getting the money from. He also wrote the script and is both director and lead actor. The script is barely passable and he knows just enough to get scenes shot. But Tommy can’t act. None of those facts stop him from plowing forward to get his vision realized. “The Room” isn’t a comedy, but the making of it is.
Seth Rogen plays the script supervisor (though Tommy won’t allow him to alter his vision one iota). Rogen was simply cast to spew-out sarcastic one-liners, and he delivers. A who’s who of familiar faces (from Zac Efron to Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver) have minor roles as characters in “The Room”, while other big names appear in memorable cameos, including Judd Apatow and Bryan Cranston.
Franco has made a fun look at filmmaking done wrong. And he’s simply mesmerizing as Wiseau, an unpredictable presence and cinematic trailblazer (in his own mind). He’s both dreamer and realist. At times ridiculous, but always fearless. Franco’s surprisingly restrained, and at times moving performance, has you rooting for Tommy to succeed, even though you know the finished product is destined to be a trainwreck.
“The Disaster Artist” isn’t the most insightful ‘movie about making movies’ ever made. It’s rather straightforward, with a satisfying, but not emotionally light pay-off. But its breezy, wholehearted tone, combined with Franco’s career-defining performance, make it one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Disaster Artist” gets a B.
Running Time: 104 min.