The Disaster Artist (2017) directed by and starring James Franco
A friendship between hopeless actors
This adaptation of Greg Sestero’s autobiographical account of his friendship and working relationship with The Room director Tommy Wiseau features James Franco (who also directs) in the latter role. James’s real-life brother Dave plays Greg’s role.
The film starts by focussing on two aspiring San Francisco actors, both of whom are struggling their way through acting classes. Greg has a sense of stage anxiety which is clearly preventing his performances from taking off. Tommy, on the other hand, has the opposite problem: his acting goes so insanely over the top that it leaves his both his teacher and fellow classmates utterly bemused. They become friends during the class and Tommy starts to draw Greg out of his shell via some impromptu rehearsals in a crowded local diner. Yes, Tommy (who claims to be from New Orleans, despite having an accent bearing little resemblance to one from that neck of the woods) is spectacularly lacking in both personal modesty and self-awareness.
Tommy subsequently persuades Greg that the best way to go is to head for an acting career in Los Angeles. However, after some time living there, they find themselves rejected again and again. Things take a dramatic turn when Tommy approaches a Hollywood producer in a restaurant in a desperate attempt to prove his acting talents via a spontaneous Shakespeare recital. Before the staff throw him out the producer tells him that he won’t make it “in a million years”. However, while he is initially devastated after hearing this, Tommy isn’t one to give up. He decides to write a script for a film which he plans to produce, direct and star in himself - with Greg being given a part as his best friend.
Watch a trailer:
Is this a great film about a terrible one?
The Room (2003) is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. At the same time, it has sustained a cult following to this day - one perpetuated by star/writer/producer/director Tommy Wiseau himself via a series of special screenings around the world. Not only is it “so bad it’s good” but on another level, it’s incredible that such a thing got made by a man with a complete lack of experience (not to mention talent) wearing several different hats during filming. The bizarre Tommy has remained something of an enigma - even to his friend Greg Sestero - so it’s only natural that this biopic doesn’t really delve all that deeply into what makes him tick.
In effect, it portrays him as an extension of the way in which he comes across playing his character Johnny from The Room: a sad, grotesque oddball who is by turns generous, big-hearted, highly-strung and egomaniacal. He has no sense of how others perceive his odd behaviour and is prone to throw wild tantrums when he fails to get his own way. James Franco captures his accent, gestures and demeanour to perfection but does so with a mixture of both humour and pity.
A genuine comedy out of an accidental one
Yes, The Disaster Artist is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in some time. It achieves the trick of making an intentionally hilarious movie out of an unintentionally hilarious one. One of the best moments involves the endless takes needed for Tommy to deliver his legendary line: “I did not hit her, it's not true! It's bullshit! I did not hit her! I did not! Oh hi, Mark.” Part of this has already been shown in the trailer but, nonetheless, the way in which it has been expanded out in the final film sustains the joke extremely well. At the same time, there’s something truly chuckle-worthy cropping up at least every few minutes as a result of Tommy’s outrageous behaviour in any given setting.
While James Franco is the showy star here, the rest of the cast does fine work functioning as collective “straight persons”. Dave bounces well off his real-life brother as the comparatively conventional Greg, who clearly genuinely cares about his unorthodox companion despite his myriad faults. Seth Rogen is also a highlight playing Sandy Schklair, the eternally irate script supervisor who pretty much functions as the film’s de facto real director in the absence of Wiseau’s competence at the task (as he allegedly did in real life).
If there’s a criticism of The Disaster Artist it’s that it pretty much follows the usual crowd-pleasing, box-ticking feelgood celebrity biopic tropes. There are little references thrown in here, there and everywhere from knowing pin-pointers as to what might have inspired certain scenes in The Room to various celebrity cameos. Greg Sestero himself pops up as a casting agent while Tommy Wiseau himself makes a brief appearance right after the end credits (I ill-advisedly left the cinema before allowing them to finish so I’m taking this under advisement). There are also appearances by various other celebrities via some interview footage at the start along with various cameos by the likes of Bryan Cranston (playing himself during his Malcolm in the Middle days), Melanie Griffith and Sharon Stone.
On the other hand, what could have been a real-life tragedy has become a real-life success story via a happy accident. Therefore, the whole stereotypical “underdog overcoming adversity” narrative fits well since, in reality, that is exactly what has happened (in a roundabout sort of way). As a movie, it’s contrived and predictable but in the most unashamedly enjoyable way imaginable. As the ultimate extension of a true movie phenomenon of the strangest kind, I am sure Wiseau himself would be exceptionally proud of this result.
Runtime: 104 mins
Dir: James Franco
Script: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, from a novel by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau, Bryan Cranston
Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?
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