The biggest problem with this latest directorial effort from James Franco is not the quality of the film, but more the fact that its mere existence continues to allow a manifestly untalented, delusional and seemingly unpleasant person to bask in the spotlight that has been inexplicably thrust his way for no discernible reason. An individual should not be celebrated for producing a movie that is widely regarded as the worst ever made. Having secured a degree of infamy as the man responsible for The Room, a film that set new standards for ineptitude both behind and in front of the camera, the release of The Disaster Artist has afforded Tommy Wiseau the opportunity to again revel in the infamy of his abject mediocrity. Even though Franco, who also takes on the lead role, doesn’t paint the narcissistic Wiseau in a particularly pleasant light, the fact that he fails to explore the myriad mistruths that Wiseau has perpetuated about his life does raise questions about what Franco was really hoping to achieve. Sure, The Disaster Artist is entertaining enough and is Franco’s most accomplished effort as a director, but in simply reiterating that The Room is awful and Wiseau a clueless clown, the film doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.
Adapted from the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, the film tells the story of the making of The Room from the perspective of Sestero, an actor who befriended Wiseau and subsequently found himself featuring in the film. From the physical aspects of his persona – such as his accent or ridiculous hair – to his psychological shortcomings, James Franco is pitch perfect as Wiseau, a character who is so ridiculous that it would be impossible to believe such a person exists if we didn’t already know that he does. A delusional dolt who sees his continued failure to secure any acting roles as a conspiracy rather than a reflection of the fact that he has no talent, Wiseau decides that the only way to make a name for himself as an actor is to create his own project. There is nothing wrong with such an approach and plenty of successful actors have been ‘discovered’ in small, independent films made outside of the Hollywood machine. The difference in this instance is that Wiseau actually has very little knowledge about any aspect of the film making process yet refuses to cede any aspect of the production to those who do.
Given that The Disaster Artist is adapted from his book, it is perhaps not surprising that Sestero (played by Dave Franco) is pitched as the hero of the piece, sacrificing other opportunities to remain loyal to Wiseau’s vision, even if it is a vision that nobody else understands. Wiseau is dismissive of any advice that is forthcoming and becomes increasingly hostile and dismissive of the crew led by Sandy (Seth Rogan) as the costs mount. Jackie Weaver, Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron make hilarious cameos as characters in the film within the film, while Alison Brie features as Greg’s girlfriend Amber and the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Megan Mullally, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith and Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some) also pop in for the briefest of bits, however it is Judd Apatow who steps up as an unnamed Hollywood producer who proves the only person willing to tell Wiseau exactly what he needs to hear (which, of course, falls on deaf ears).
In recent years Franco has himself become the subject of much ridicule with some strange career choices, a penchant for provocation and an unwavering belief that he is a master of all trades, but The Disaster Artist serves as a reminder that he is, first and foremost, an actor of considerable talent. He is extremely good here, nailing Wiseau’s strange mannerisms and exploring the insecurities buried beneath the bravado. It’s easy to laugh at Wiseau, and the film does that in spades, but it is much harder to care about him and, as a result, we tend to extend our sympathies to the other characters. In the vein of Florence Foster Jenkins, the rousing finale demonstrates that even a really bad performance can bring great joy to those who witness it, just not for the reasons the artist might have hoped.