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‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

By Steve Persall
Published: December 4, 2017
Dave Franco and James Franco in the film, "The Disaster Artist." (A24)

James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.

Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco has talent. The Disaster Artist is his smudged valentine from one undaunted artist to another, an imperfect re-enactment of misplaced optimism. All of The Roomís perverse fun without the pain of watching it.

Franco ably directs and stars as Wiseau, a capital-C Character heís too pretty to play. The real Tommy is closer to a bee-stung Gene Simmons, so Francoís impersonation of Wiseauís garbled Euro-slurring at times comes across as stoner speak. Yet thereís never doubt in Francoís commitment to his subjectís inherent weirdness.

Itís what appeals to Greg Sestero, an aspiring but uninspired actor whose book informs The Disaster Artist. As played by Dave Franco, the directorís brother, Greg is a worshiper needing a hero when he sees Tommy literally climbing the walls in an acting class exercise. How much Greg and Tommy may parallel the Franco brothersí dynamic is another meta-question to consider.

Greg is fascinated by this human-alien life form with grandiose ideas of becoming a romantic leading man from which Francoís looks erase all irony; he is a leading man even in a fright wig. Tommy reveals nothing believable about himself, so when he proposes making their own movie, Greg goes along like always.

The Disaster Artist takes us inside The Room as it notoriously happened, a $6 million vanity project (and where the money came from is still anyoneís guess). Tommy proves himself entirely witless about filmmaking, buying equipment rather than renting, building an alley indoors instead of filming the real thing right outside. Heís Ed Wood with a checkbook.

Tommyís barely patient cast and crew is headed by Seth Rogenís script supervisor/ersatz director Sandy Schklair and Jacki Weaver as an actor saddled with a dead-end subplot. Franco utilizes The Roomís cult status to coax celebrities (Zac Efron, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith) into cameos playable by anyone, making them distractions.

Meanwhile, Gregís new girlfriend (Alison Brie) disrupts his bromance with Tommy, lending pathos to the absurdity and threatening production. The adapted screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) attains a shaggy sentimentality bending fact into a happier ending.

The Room debuted at one Los Angeles theater, selling $1,200 in tickets during a one-week run. Wiseauís "achievement" wasnít immediately recognized for the unintended hoot it is. His delusion lasted longer than Francoís take, not accepting until later that audiences were laughing at him, not with him.

Yet that sunnier-than-truth finale suits The Disaster Artistís relentlessly cockeyed optimism. Franco doesnít ask viewers to reconsider bad art but to respect the artist behind it. Sage advice from someone who, after a few career disasters, can still shape a movie this good.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.