Movie review: The Disaster Artist is a zany success

James Franco directs and stars in The Disaster Artist, a true story about a quirky fame-seeker who has made an unusual mark on Hollywood. Photo courtesy of A24 James Franco directs and stars in The Disaster Artist, a true story about a quirky fame-seeker who has made an unusual mark on Hollywood. Photo courtesy of A24

Not many people are able to fail their way to success, to turn what ought to have been their most humiliating defeat into fame and profit. Then again, Tommy Wiseau is not most people. A perplexing mix of sincerity and complete mystery, Wiseau gained notoriety as the writer, director, producer and star of what is widely considered the Citizen Kane of bad movies, The Room.

Released in 2003, The Room is a full-throated examination of betrayal committed by friends and loved ones against an unsuspecting man whose only sin was trusting too much—just executed with no understanding of what makes for good filmmaking or even a semi-logical narrative, with gargantuan plot holes, strange characters with stranger relationships to one another and baffling artistic decisions that would leave even the least savvy filmgoer scratching his head. To watch The Room is to marvel at a grown person of presumably sound mind making really bad decisions, while remaining confident and oblivious to how it’s going. It’s not just a beautiful trainwreck, it’s like watching an engineer who sees the same wreck approaching but somehow doesn’t know he is supposed to prevent it, and it’s that remarkable naiveté that separates it from other bad movies.

The Disaster Artist
R, 98 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX and Violet Crown Cinema

Naturally, the making of such a spectacle is an interesting story in its own right, as chronicled in James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, adapted from the memoir of the same name written by Wiseau’s friend and co-star in The Room, Greg Sestero. The film focuses on the friendship between Wiseau (James Franco) and Sestero (Dave Franco), which began in a San Francisco acting class. Timid yet driven, Sestero is drawn to Wiseau’s fearlessness in his performances (even if they’re never particularly good), and the two form a bond over their shared dream of becoming a Hollywood movie star. The pair move to Los Angeles to find their destiny, and eventually decide to make their own movie to spite Sestero’s unresponsive agents and Wiseau’s judgmental reception.

Along the way, we come to know Wiseau, or at least as much as he will let us. Clearly of Eastern European origin, he claims to be from New Orleans (which he can hardly even pronounce). He is cagey about his age, and though he barely seems to work, he is somehow a multimillionaire with apartments in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. He waltzes into directing, financially overprepared, having bought all his own equipment and hired experienced professionals with enough budget to film well past the original schedule, yet is logistically, artistically and emotionally out to sea at all times.

The Disaster Artist does an excellent job of humanizing a figure that could easily have been a target for nonstop mockery—as the real Wiseau was in screenings across the country. Wiseau did not suddenly emerge this way, his personality and quirks were forged over a life of what appears to be insecurity and real trauma. That would explain the unmotivated anguish of The Room; the raw nerve in him is real, even if he lacks the craft to express it. He is clearly jealous of the young, handsome, all-American Sestero, becoming embittered when he finds a girlfriend, threatening their life together as roommates. Wiseau even sabotages a real opportunity for Sestero because it would mean taking a day off of production.

As a director, Franco has examined Hollywood myths before, recreating the supposedly too-explicit footage edited from Cruising in Interior. Leather Bar. But as a filmmaker, he shows new maturity with The Disaster Artist by placing characters and emotional relationships first and jokes second. His performance is astonishingly committed, at times hilarious and hideous. It is at times distracting that Dave resembles his brother in a non-relative role, but the two work off of one another so well it eventually ceases to matter.

It will help if you’ve seen The Room before The Disaster Artist, but as long as you believe that this man and movie are real—difficult though it may be—you will find it’s an engaging and entertaining experience.

Playing this week

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

Coco, Justice League, Lady Bird, Love Actually, Murder on the Orient Express, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Wonder

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

Coco, Daddy’s Home 2, Just Getting Started, Justice League, Lady Bird, LBJ, Murder on the Orient Express, My Friend Dahmer, Roman J. Israel, Esq., The Star, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

Coco, Justice League, Lady Bird, Murder on the Orient Express, The Man Who Invented Christmas, Novitiate, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder

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