Movie Review: ‘THE DISASTER ARTIST’ – self-sabotage has never been this funny

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

THE DISASTER ARTIST

Rated R, 104 minutes.
Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth RogenAri GraynorPaul ScheerAlison Brie, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver

This review originally ran after the film’s premiere at South by Southwest in March

James Franco is a guy who isn’t afraid to take chances in his career. At this point, he’s made a ton of movies. Some just have not worked, but he was bound to direct a good one before too long. It’s just surprising that it came in THE DISASTER ARTIST, a film based on Greg Sestero’s co-authored novel of the same name. It centers on Sestero’s friendship with the cluelessly enigmatic Tommy Wiseau and how this odd pair formed a bromance for the ages. Franco is a guy whose ideas are typically more interesting than their execution, but like Wiseau, he’s earnest with everything he does.

Wiseau (portrayed by Franco) is a mysterious millionaire that solely funded the reported $6 million budget for THE ROOM and paid for his own makeshift Oscar campaign in a two-week Academy qualifying run in Los Angles. Unfortunately, only under 200 people paid to see the film during its opening weekend. Nobody really knows Wiseau’s age, where he comes from or where his money comes from. This essentially was the dollar amount it took for him to try and convince Hollywood that he’s a “cool, normal guy.”

THE DISASTER ARTIST was screened as a “work in progress,” but the film appeared to be finished as a complete story (Note: No noticeable changes in final cut) filled with cameos from all of the Seth Rogen/Franco crew of usual suspects, as well as “legitimate” actors, including Sharon Stone, Jackie Weaver and Melanie Griffiths. Franco’s method performance as Wiseau is incredibly distinct, down to the spot-on Eastern European accent (although, he claims to be from New Orleans) to his sunken face and thick vampiric black hair. Like the character Alien in SPRING BREAKERS, Franco completely disappears into the character, so much so that he directed his own brother Dave (NERVE) in character during production.

Brothers Dave and James Franco star in THE DISASTER ARTIST. Courtesy of A24.

While a lot of the focus will deservedly be given to James, Dave is able to embody the naivety of Sestero, who on the outside has a surfer-bro look, but inside is as lonely and lost as Wiseau. Their budding partnership is where the film exists, outside of the typical comedic beats we’ve gotten from the Franco/Rogen films. THE DISASTER ARTIST observes but never condemns Wiseau’s increasingly bizarre behavior, such as 57 takes for one line of dialogue or the vehement suggestion that he show his bare ass in a sex scene, because “Brad Pitt did it in LEGENDS OF THE FALL.”

This is a leap forward for Franco as a director, who clearly has a fondness for this unlikely Hollywood story that’s hilarious and truthful. Franco deserves a lot credit for embracing his failures in front of and behind the camera, he’s a daring Hollywood maverick who in some ways has created his own shiny little beacon of hope for stretching the boundaries of filmmaking.

THE DISASTER ARTIST is largely successful, but not quite perfect due to a few lulls in the 2nd act and not totally showing just how grueling it was to make the film due to Wiseau being difficult about literally every decision. In spite of the inherent comedic elements of Franco playing Wiseau, this film embraces the inner eccentricities of human behavior and how vulnerable artists can be. This isn’t the next coming of a great meta-masterpiece, but its largely a damn good retelling of one of Hollywood’s most beautiful disasters.

Grade: A-

THE DISASTER ARTIST opens on Friday, Dec. 8.