Director: James Franco
Runtime: 103 minutes
The Disaster Artist only entered my consciousness a few weeks ago, when I spotted a promotional poster at a bus stop. Bearing the names of James and Dave Franco, as well as their long-time collaborator, Seth Rogen, I assumed the film to be an easygoing comedy akin to This Is The End (2013) and Neighbors (2014).
I resisted any screenings for the film, reasoning that my time would be better spent on ‘actual’ Academy Award contenders. How glad I am that I dismounted my pretentious high horse, because this film enthralled and delighted me like no other.
James Franco’s biographical comedy-drama is based on Greg Sestero and Tony Bissell’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. It chronicles the making of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003), a cult classic now widely considered the best worst movie ever made. The narrative commences with Sestero (Dave Franco) and Wiseau’s (James Franco) initial meeting in 1998, when they were both attending an acting class in San Francisco. Despite the eccentric Wiseau’s refusal to discuss his true age, place of origin, and the source of his boundless wealth, Sestero is enamoured by his fearlessness on stage. They migrate to Los Angeles to realise their mutual dream of stardom.
Dejected by his lack of success, Wiseau takes up Sestero’s half-hearted suggestion to make their own film. And so begins production on the former’s incoherent, awkward, melodramatic brainchild. We are subject to Wiseau’s complete lack of on- and off-screen expertise, his refusal to alter any aspect of his performance or script, and his humiliating and misinformed treatment of cast and crew.
But The Disaster Artist does not seek to ridicule or belittle Wiseau’s efforts in making The Room. James Franco’s dedicated direction and performance are an ode to an inherent desire plaguing all of us: to be known.
It is hard to remain frustrated with Wiseau when we are witness to the isolation caused by his unconventional, leering presence. While Sestero easily snags a top talent agent (Sharon Stone) and a beautiful girlfriend (Dave Franco’s real life wife, Alison Brie), Wiseau is given the same, sneering message: ‘Hollywood doesn’t want you’.
The history of The Disaster Artist‘s cast and crew lends the narrative greater emotional weight. James Franco, whose previous directorial efforts in The Ape and The Broken Tower have been labelled as ‘self-indulgent’, reflects Wiseau’s self-proclaimed aspiration to bring real life to the screen. And the involvement of James’ close circle of family and friends mirrors the relationship between Sestero and Wiseau. Your happiness and success is inevitably tied to the love and support of those around you.
At the start of the film, a number of Hollywood heavyweights, including Kristen Bell, express their respect for The Room without mentioning it my name. I regarded the seriousness of these comments with skepticism. However, Franco’s loving handling of the subject matter imbues these testimonies with an air of authority.
I’m grateful I watched The Disaster Artist before The Room. When I do eventually watch it, I won’t fold into my seat out of embarrassment for all involved. I will open my arms and offer Wiseau the adoration and immortality he so desperately desired. After all, The Room continues to engender joy and motivation to strive for your dreams. And isn’t that what all great films are meant to do?