Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is struggling in his acting class in San Francisco. He cannot drop his fear of being laughed at and embarrassed to express himself freely. He then sees another student in the class perform a raw and unapologetically emotional scene. That actor is Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). After class Greg approaches Tommy about doing a scene together. The pair goes to a local restaurant and Tommy begins performing and encourages Greg to let go, talk loud and give his all to the scene. Despite drawing stares and laughter from the other patrons Greg is excited about what they did and about working with Tommy. After hanging around together Tommy suggests they head to Los Angeles and be roommates. Tommy has an apartment in L.A. and says Greg can live with him. Greg is surprised Tommy has an apartment in both San Francisco and L.A. and also drives a very nice Mercedes. He has never talked about his past other than claiming to be from New Orleans despite sporting an accent that sounds Eastern European. Greg also suspects Tommy is far older than he claims. Despite this, the two new friends move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of being famous actors; but no matter how hard they try, neither gets any work. Frustrated, Tommy is on the verge of giving up when Greg makes an off-handed comment saying he wished they could make their own movie. Tommy gets excited and begins writing a script for a film in which he and Greg will be the main stars. It will be about love, betrayal, awkward sex scenes, inappropriately laughing at tragic stories and above all else incoherent storytelling. In other words, it will be one of the worst movies ever made: The Room.
James Franco, with the help of writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, has turned an unbelievable book into a painfully believable film called “The Disaster Artist.” There is a great deal of humor to be found in watching someone as utterly inept as Tommy Wiseau, as played by Franco, plowing through the process of making a movie while having no real understanding of how it should be done. There is also a great deal of pain in seeing this strange man with jet-black dyed hair and odd fashion choices trying to make his dream come true by the sheer force of his will. It becomes clear that Wiseau is really only making the movie in order to keep his one and only friend Greg around. The story isn’t so much about someone untalented trying to be a star in Hollywood as it is an expression of love by Tommy for Greg. In that way “The Disaster Artist” is beautiful. In another way, it is infuriating.
Wiseau represents to me the kind of person I have run into on occasion in my life: The clinging, parasitic acquaintance that seems to suck all the energy out of the room when he/she appears. This is the person that doesn’t know when to shut up, can’t take a hint and doesn’t know when they aren’t wanted. He/she is the person that causes many an eye to roll when they enter a room. Franco’s Wiseau is a brilliant personification of this emotional leach. Whenever someone begins attracting Dave Franco’s Greg’s attention, Tommy gets jealous and at one point sabotages Greg’s opportunity to do a guest spot on a sit-com. He’s angered by Greg moving in with his girlfriend Amber (played by Allison Brie) as he sees this as a betrayal. You could gather from these and other possessive reactions that Tommy is gay but I disagree with that assessment. Tommy is lonely and isolated. He sees his friendship with Greg as a unique and special thing since he apparently hasn’t had many friends before. He is overly protective of this friendship so he reacts with jealousy and vindictiveness if he feels it threatened. Tommy is a child in an adult’s body.
Franco disappears into the role of Tommy Wiseau. It is a brilliant portrayal of a man that seems like he is a character from a bad novel. Franco mimics Wiseau’s accent perfectly as is shown by a post-credits scene with Wiseau wearing a short wig, fake mustache and glasses meeting Franco’s Wiseau at a party. The odd speech pattern and mangling of certain words is the most cartoonish of the character’s traits but there is a deadness in the eyes that Franco carries off through the entire film that may be the most disturbing. With a few exceptions during very emotional scenes, Franco is dead from the nose up. He has the look of someone that is in the midst of some sort of mind-altering drug trip. If he wasn’t playing a real person I’d say he wasn’t giving a very good performance; but this may be one of Franco’s best in his career.
Dave Franco gives Greg Sestero a nice bit of character development over the course of the film. Starting off like a puppy that’s looking for an older dog to play with, Dave Franco grows and matures as Greg is exposed to the realities of Hollywood and the eccentricities of Tommy. He either ignores or makes excuses for Tommy’s odd behavior at first; but as time goes on Greg sees Tommy is odd and doesn’t interact with the world the way most everyone else does. It is a well-rounded performance by Dave Franco that is a nice counterpoint to his brother’s peculiar character.
While the Francos dominate the screen time there are numerous other stars in smaller and even cameo roles that do an amazing job of rounding out this slightly off-kilter universe. Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer play members of the film crew and do so in both comedic and dramatic fashion. While both are better known for their humorous turns both their characters make an effort to ground Tommy’s loftier filmmaking efforts with little success. Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and Nathan Fielder have small roles as actors in the film. Each gets a moment to shine but Graynor probably had the most unpleasant role in the film as she has an uncomfortable sex scene with Franco’s Wiseau. As they are starting the scene Wiseau is fully nude except for what looks like a paper bag hiding his junk. He tells her she looks ugly because of some blemishes on her shoulders and wants makeup to come in and hide them. It is an especially painful scene given the #metoo movement. There are numerous other cameos in the film that could make a fun game on repeat viewings.
“The Disaster Artist” is rated R for some sexuality/nudity and language throughout. James Franco is fully nude except for something covering his genitals. His backside is on full display on a couple of occasions. There is also a simulated sex scene that is played more for humor. Foul language is common throughout the film.
Earlier I said “The Disaster Artist” is infuriating. It isn’t the film but the subject that annoys me. Tommy Wiseau made a movie that has been described as the worst ever filmed. Despite this he has backed into fame which was a part of his goal in the first place. Tommy Wiseau is right up there with the Kardashians for being famous without any real talent. It doesn’t set the best example for those wanting to get into the entertainment business when someone produces a film that is universally recognized as garbage but still manages to make money from his trash. Wiseau, Sestero and other cast members often do Q & A’s before midnight showings of the film that are usually sold out. “The Room” has become a cult classic with audiences donning Wiseau-like wigs and reciting dialog with the characters. While it only made $1,800.00 from its opening weekend, “The Room” is becoming a bona fide money maker and Wiseau is basking in the glory of not only his creation but that of “The Disaster Artist.” James Franco deserves the majority of the praise for his direction and portrayal of the enigmatic artist known as Tommy Wiseau and Franco actually has talent and deserves all the praise he gets for this film.
“The Disaster Artist” gets five stars.
This week a flower-loving bull and the Last Jedi hit screens in your neighborhood. I’ll be seeing and reviewing at least one of the following (Who am I kidding? I’ll see Star Wars):
Star Wars: The Last Jedi—
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