“The Disaster Artist” is a movie I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, and the James Franco passion project was worth the wait. The film is based on the making of the terrible 2003 Tommy Wiseau movie “The Room,” universally panned as the worst movie ever made that has now grown into a runaway cult classic. For the uninitiated, you probably should see “The Room” to ensure maximum enjoyment of Franco’s film. The original is not easy to sit through and the awfulness will start to wear you down before the halfway mark, but you’ll be rewarded tenfold with enjoyment if you have a little background before embarking on Franco’s tribute to the underground film industry legend.
Offering up an amusing look at the creative process and the day-to-day production of the movie, much of the script was based on actual recordings that were made during the filming of “The Room” as well as the memoir by Wiseau’s co-star and friend Greg Sistero (Dave Franco). It’s a wild ride to be sure, and it’s an unbelievable yet enjoyable story about a man who continues to live with lofty dreams of making it big in Hollywood.
Franco is perfectly capable in the director’s chair, but the film rests on his lead performance. Franco goes all-in with his transformation into the bizzaro Tommy, nailing his mannerisms and speech patterns yet never becoming a bullying caricature. He brings his own oddball sincerity and dedicated methodology, and there is no better actor suited to taking on this role than Franco — who nails it from start to finish. The film does poke fun at the inept director, writer and actor, but the humor doesn’t grow from a mean-spirited place. Ultimately he is treated with respect, which is critical for a film like this.
The movie is stuffed with fun celebrity cameos from Franco’s famous friends (including Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer), and the casting choices are spot on. It’s a riot just looking at the folks playing the actors from the original movie, like Ari Graynor as Lisa, Josh Hutcherson as Denny, Zac Efron as Chris-R, and Jacki Weaver as Claudette. Playing pretty boy and Tommy’s best friend Greg Sistero, the younger Franco gleefully shares the film with his real-life brother, bringing a vivid charm and sensitivity to their onscreen relationship.
The film is at its best when it focuses on the two struggling actors sharing grand delusions of becoming superstars. There’s a driving passion that’s contagious, and the Franco men veraciously express the embodiment of the artistic spirit and the idea that you should follow your dreams, naysayers be damned. These guys have a blind ambition and a clear plan to do what they love, and they make it happen. You want to make “big Hollywood movie” and “become big Hollywood star?” Then get out there and (mysteriously) finance your own filmmaking career.
Fans of “The Room” should stay for the end credits as Franco re-enacts several scenes from the film with a near-perfect synchronicity.
“The Disaster Artist” is a good movie about a bad cult classic that embodies the essence of Hollywood: dream big, stumble spectacularly, but never let your failures define you.