“You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself. But please don’t hurt each other.”
Tommy Wiseau has become known to say that when appearing at screenings of his 2003 disasterpiece, “The Room.”
Now, after 14 years, it’s near impossible to get through “The Disaster Artist” – Wiseau’s biopic and the story behind the greatest worst movie ever made – without laughing, crying, smiling, recoiling or having any other kind of visceral reaction.
For a film that radiates irony through the very fact that it was made, and made very well, that experience must bring it all full circle for Wiseau and his cult hit to rule all cult hits. For years he was the butt of a joke, sometimes even in on it. But thanks to James Franco, his story is now an unexpectedly inspiring one, a seemingly hyberbolic but very real ode to reaching for the stars – even if we can barely lift our arms above our head.
“The Disaster Artist” follows the companionship of Franco’s Wiseau and amateur acting class peer Greg Sestero – played by a fully capable Dave Franco – in their metamorphosis from San Francisco dreamers to Hollywood go-getters in the early 2000s.
While that journey never slows up too much, it’s by the strength of individual key scenes that make it memorable. That repertoire includes an early, no-holds-barred unleashing of acting fury in the middle of a packed diner; Wiseau’s constant head-scratching decisions on set; and the inevitable confrontation between Sestero and Wiseau that could have easily devolved into something out of “Jerry Springer,” but instead stays within the realm of believability.
At its core, “The Disaster Artist” is a story of determined naiveté disguised as destiny, as the two friends are lured by something that is lightyears beyond their comprehension. Sestero doesn’t have the talent to make it big, nor Wiseau the ability to be taken seriously by anyone, no matter how many times he unleashes his inner Shakespeare in public places.
Their solution: Make their own film, and contribute to cinematic history on their own terms. They do just that, only in the opposite way they intended, and the journey is hilarious and even touching to witness.
“The Disaster Artist” has no right to work as well as it does. The fact that it does is a testament to Franco, Seth Rogen and Co.’s ultimate message – that you can make Real Hollywood Movie that’s a hell of a lot of fun, while having a hell of a time doing it.
Like Wiseau in “The Room,” James Franco doesn’t only star in “The Disaster Artist” in an instantly iconic turn that should land him an Oscar nomination, but he takes the directing reins as well. The elder Franco brother always was a bit of an enigma, someone whose career choices never made complete sense but whose prowess as an actor can be turned to 11 when he wants.
In that way, it’s hard to imagine a better choice to bring the legacy of “The Room” to the big screen. It’s clear from both ends of the camera he understands Wiseau better than most, and shows why he might just be a figure to hold in high esteem. Franco is drawing endless laughter from us, yes, but his ultimate goal is sincerity – not parody.
By writing, producing, directing and starring in his own movie, Wiseau doesn’t see a way to get rich fast; he’s already a spring of money (though, true to real life, the film never makes a serious hypothesis as to where it all comes from). Instead, “The Disaster Artist” relishes the opportunity to criticize the superficiality of the industry, and it’s hard not to cheer Tommy on even when Greg, his only friend and practically his partner in life, has abandoned him.
“The Disaster Artist” drills into our head that Wiseau is an agent of chaos to the status quo, and someone who won’t be denied his chance. Even if that means kamikazeing his way through every day on set.
Comparisons to last year’s “La La Land” could be made. Both films are tributes to the illustrious pull of Los Angeles and the millions obsessed with putting their stamp on the city. But while the dreamers of Damien Chazelle’s dramusical are acutely aware of the mountain they have to climb to be successful, Franco’s Wiseau doesn’t blink at the odds before him until he’s well into his Olympian endeavor.
For the man bringing “The Room” to life, it’s about creating art, and flinching would be a distraction. For us witnesses his building of the very spotlight he’ll live the rest of his life in, it’s a reminder that bulletproof optimism might just be one of the best weapons artists can have.
It’s easy to sympathize with the Wiseau movie when the biggest obstacle he faces in making “The Room” is the utter confusion and shock of his cast and crew at his decisions. But you also don’t have to have worked in the industry to see things through their eyes – that this no-name, self-styled filmmaker shouldn’t have even a fraction of the confidence he has.
It’s that dichotomy that keeps the film engaging and not just comedic, all the way through to the eventual premiere of “The Room,” a sequence that is as raw and excellently crafted as any other this year.
Aside from Franco, the supporting cast helps to keep the movie light on its toes. Seth Rogen is superb as the representative of how things have been done in Hollywood for years, and Dave Franco is finally demanding to be taken seriously as the actor yearning to be a star and realizing “The Room” won’t get him there.
The rest of the on-screen ensemble is a virtual who’s-who of modern pop culture, and though the Francos chew up most of the scenery, there isn’t someone who adds a little something to the product as a whole. You’re better of going in not knowing who the side players are; the surprises will only add to what is sure to be one of the most fun theater-going experiences you’ve had in a while.
This review was edited by Jyllian Roach
“The Disaster Artist” is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Ari Graynor, Seth Rogen
Directed by James Franco