The Disaster Artist – Film Review by David Minogue
Directed by James Franco
Written by Michael H Weber & Scott Neustadter, Based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life inside The Room The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell
Stars James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Jacki Weaver
In 2003 Tommy Wiseau released his film The Room which he directed, produced, wrote and also starred in. It cost a reported $6 million and screened initially for two weeks, grossing a total of $1,600. Following many midnight screenings it has since gained cult status with audience participation similar to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Unlike that film, The Room has been described as one of the worst films of all time because of its plot, performances and production values. Intended as a drama it has since been regarded as a comedy. Ten years after its release Greg Sestero who starred as Mark in The Room released his memoir of his friendship with Wiseau and his time working on the film. Sestero’s book was titled The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room’, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. He co-wrote the book with Tom Bissell and it became an American best seller. James Franco initially became aware of The Room because of a billboard advertisement that was displayed in Hollywood for five years which Wiseau funded himself. After reading Sestero’s book Franco has adapted it for the screen working with screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter. While Franco is primarily known as an actor, The Disaster Artist is his fourteenth film as a director and is the one that has brought him most acclaim in the role.
The film begins with a variety of real life actors casting their opinion on The Room and its place in popular culture. As The Room may not be familiar to many people this partly comes across as a mockumentary before the narrative of the film begins. The surreal tone is set in place in an early scene in an acting class when Sestero (Dave Franco) is disastrously trying to act in a scene from Waiting For Godot. He is then upstaged by Wiseau (James Franco) in their class by his bizarre portrayal of Stanley in a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Sestero is quickly intrigued by Wiseau and the first part of the film depicts how they became friends and moved to Los Angeles. While Sestero initially appears to create some sort of acting career Wiseau has no such luck. His appearance, accent, choice of dress and acting style all work against him but which all combine to make him fascinating. Following his early lack of success Wiseau decided to make his own film The Room with himself and Sestero as the film’s protagonists. The remainder of Franco’s film is a linear portrayal of the pre-production and making of The Room and its reception afterwards.
There is an awareness of the style and tone of other director’s work in this film, including Paul Thomas Anderson. James Franco has acknowledged the influence of Boogie Nights. The Disaster Artist has elements of that film without the sex and drugs. Dave Franco plays Sestero with the kind of wide eyed optimism and innocence that Mark Wahlberg too initially depicted as Eddie Adams in Anderson’s film. Wiseau originally wanted Johnny Depp to play him in this film and it is easy to imagine Depp in the role. Franco stayed in character as Wiseau throughout the entire shooting of the film and that dedication to character comes across on screen. Similar to the work of Robert Altman or Woody Allen there is a large amount of actors playing secondary character or cameo roles. In this film Franco brings together actors that he regularly works with such as Seth Rogen who in the role of The Room’s script supervisor Sandy Schklair appears to overly dominate the scenes he is in. However, in real life Schklair maintained that it was he who directed the majority of the film on set instead of Wiseau. The whole notion of what is true and real is a large part of the film’s success as a story.
On average, James Franco is involved in seven to eight feature films a year. He has had his own share of high profile films that bombed at the box office including his adaptations of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in 2015 of John Steinbeck’s book In Dubious Battle in 2016. In bringing Wiseau’s story to the screen Franco has also re-energised his own film career. Any acting nominations he receives for this film are rightfully deserved. Wiseau himself has appeared at film festivals and in the publicity for the film. As part of his contract he also requested his own cameo, which is a wonderfully bizarre highlight. In order to be eligible for an Academy Award nomination a film has to run in a cinema for at least two weeks which was how long The Room screened for in 2003. While The Room never received that recognition, this film is far more likely.