James Franco is kind of a gonzo filmmaker type, with countless film and film-adjacent projects going at any given time, so his choice of “The Disaster Artist” as material makes sense, and the result is freewheeling and funny. This film goes behind the scenes of the making of another film, “The Room,” which is not so much famous as infamous for its poor quality, so much so that it has become a cult classic, celebrated for its many flaws.
Franco plays a delusional millionaire with a mysterious past — and an even more mysterious accent — named Tommy Wiseau, a wannabe actor who becomes friends with a handsome but untalented guy in the acting class they are both stinking up. His name is Greg Sestero, and he is played by Dave Franco, who is, of course, the real-life brother of James. Piling up real-life relationships is just another winking layer to this ludicrous legend depicting a film whose merits are entirely sarcastic, existing only as a hate-watching joke for those in the know.
However, an appreciation for whatever the phenomenon of “The Room” may be is not required for an appreciation of “The Disaster Artist,” which succeeds independently as a wild artistic journey showing that, with enough money, dedication and self-belief, you can still make a truly horrendous creative endeavor.
After Wiseasu and Sestero team up in San Francisco, they decamp, on Wiseau’s dime, to Los Angeles, where they have no luck launching their careers. Wiseau instead creates a vehicle for the two of them, a melodrama called “The Room” that brings his many hang-ups about women to the forefront in a story involving the two men, an unfaithful babe and several other convoluted and unresolved storylines.
Wiseau’s deep pockets buy him such extravagances as both a 35-mm film camera and a high-definition video camera, both of which he chooses to purchase rather than rent from a company that soon realizes he is a cash cow, brazenly dismissive of their professional experience and opinions. Enabled by a real crew and real actors, Wiseau’s production begins, and “The Disaster Artist” picks up steam as well.
Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer are hilarious as the film’s script supervisor and director of photography, respectively, actual professionals forced to adopt a “whatever, dude” attitude to the unskilled antics of their director, writer, producer and star. Whether enduring dozens of takes while Wiseau profoundly flubs his lines, or defending the unfortunate female lead as they film the horrifically graphic love scenes — in which Wiseau felt the exposure of his rear end was essential for the film’s commercial success — this long-suffering pair are the voices of reason in a shoot gone mad.
James Franco’s version of Tommy Wiseau leaves room for interpretation. he can certainly be detestable, but you can’t help but feel sorry for someone so oblivious. Above all, it’s just a ridiculous, funny movie with an interesting subject, and I like behind-the-scenes movie movies.
The credits show scenes from the real “The Room” side by side with “The Disaster Artist” recreations and, while you can marvel at their faithfulness, I was simply struck by how lucky one wealthy, self-centered maniac got by gaining so much notoriety for something so lame. I think he inadvertently expressed something so raw and naked that it becomes watchable on another level. “The Disaster Artist” works best when it captures Tommy Wiseau’s desperate and deeply hidden humanity, which shows through sometimes in spite of Wiseau himself.
“The Disaster Artist” is currently available to rent.