Good news, everyone: We found the role that James Franco was born to play. It is the part of Tommy Wiseau, the mysterious, eccentric self-styled artiste who made one of the worst movies of recent years with his 2003’s The Room. Franco not only plays Wiseau but also directs The Disaster Artist, a daffy, loving account of the making of that primal scream from a man who cannot scream convincingly, and it’s the Ed Wood of our generation.
The story picks up in 1998 in San Francisco, where Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a painfully inhibited aspiring actor reading his way woodenly through monologues in classes. He meets the yang to his yin in fellow student Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a long-haired guy who claims to be Greg’s age even though he’s clearly decades older, and also claims to be from New Orleans even though he has an accent that’s half German, half Russian, half Californian, and half Guy Gargling With Pool Chlorine. Tommy impulsively decides to move to L.A. with Greg to pursue their acting dreams, but when roles aren’t forthcoming, he decides to write and direct his own film about a man betrayed by the woman he loves.
Based on Sestero’s own similarly titled memoir, the movie begins with tributes from celebrity fans of The Room such as Kristen Bell, Kevin Smith, and J.J. Abrams. While James Franco has directed numerous feature films before this one, here he’s supported by a sturdy script by the experienced team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Fault in Our Stars), so the director is able to keep on track as he takes us through the amazing tale of a novice filmmaker who funds his passion project out of his own oddly deep pockets. Told that he has to choose between filming on celluloid or HD video, Tommy cheerfully chooses both and buys his own camera equipment where most filmmakers rent. The movie does not gloss over Tommy’s mistreatment of his cast and crew during the shoot, nor his possessive behavior towards Greg, as the latter’s commitment deprives him of a high-profile guest role on TV’s Malcolm in the Middle offered to him by Bryan Cranston (who portrays himself). It’s a tribute to Franco that he’s able to prevent the creepy and wildly untalented Tommy from turning into a villain.
The film is studded with well-known comedians (Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress) as well as cameos by the real Wiseau and Sestero. The actors portraying the cast members of The Room (including Ari Graynor, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, and Jacki Weaver) clearly have a blast re-enacting the nonsensical and badly acted scenes from the film. For all this, the movie pivots on the friendship between Tommy and Greg. I haven’t been a fan of Dave Franco so far, but he makes an excellent straight man here, undoubtedly drawing on his lifetime of experience reacting to his real-life brother’s weirdnesses. Speaking of which, James Franco throws himself into Tommy’s wooden acting and his laugh, which sounds fake even when he’s doing it off-camera. This movie already recommends itself to fans of The Room, but the highest praise I can give The Disaster Artist is that even people who think life is too short to seek out bad movies will be charmed by this buddy comedy about two guys whose friendship is forged while they make this crazy-ass film together and grab themselves an unlikely slice of cinematic immortality.
The Disaster Artist
Starring James Franco and Dave Franco. Directed by James Franco. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on Greg Sestero’s memoir. Rated R.