Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
Length: 1hr 44m
Despite their apparent awfulness, many people can find themselves loving “so-bad-they’re-good” films. There’s almost too many to name: Troll 2, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, Battlefield: Earth, Plan 9 From Outer Space, that animated Titanic movie with the rapping dog, and of course, the 2003 masterpiece of terrible: The Room. For those who don’t know, The Room is considered the greatest of the “funny-bad” movies, with much of the humour stemming from the bizarre figure of its writer/director/producer and lead actor Tommy Wiseau (who may or may not be human). James Franco’s The Disaster Artist follows the up-and-down relationship between Wiseau and fellow The Room star Greg “Oh Hi Mark” Sestero, whose memoirs about the making of The Room lend structure to an otherwise sprawling and near-decade long narrative. So does The Disaster Artist live up to the hype, and does it do its source material justice? Well…
The story of Greg Sestero’s relationship with the strange, enigmatic figure of Tommy Wiseau is interesting, and it’s funny watching Wiseau’s ridiculous antics being met first with naïve reverence then later frustration by Sestero. The issue with the film is that we are asked to believe in a friendship between Wiseau and Sestero, which just doesn’t add up from Wiseau’s behaviour. If the relationship were purely financial, which in some ways it is, with Sestero using Wiseau’s LA apartment as a means to forwarding his acting career, then Sestero wouldn’t come across as so passive and dumb. Instead we are asked to believe in a deeper connection between the two men that never rings true. It’d be like befriending an emotionally unstable hobgoblin.
This isn’t helped by the performances. James Franco does a great Tommy Wiseau impression, and it’s a credit to his abilities as an actor that the impression never becomes grating. But that’s all it is, an impression, with Franco preferring to copy the persona of Wiseau, instead of attempting to humanise him (if that’s even possible). So every attempt at emotion rings hollow, as just as with Wiseau in real life, everything is an act; a part of his persona. Everyone else in the film is “fine”. David Franco is serviceable as Greg Sestero, but like James he never elevates the role. Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Zac Efron and other talented actors and comedians…feature. None of them are particularly funny or memorable and aren’t given enough screen time to shine or develop, as all of the focus is given to the Franco brothers, who seem to have banked on all of the comedy coming from the Tommy Wiseau impression, which, while funny at times, doesn’t hold a near-two hour movie together.
The Disaster Artist has a lack of focus and vision, too. From its title and central theme of auteurship, it purports to carry the torch of Tommy Wiseau’s legend, much like Tim Burton’s excellent film about the “Worst Director in Hollywood”, Ed Wood, in attempting to (ironically) place Wiseau’s work amongst the unique filmmakers of the past. The problem is that the film’s framing and screenplay do not match this central thesis of building the myth of Tommy Wiseau. Shot documentary-style with naturalistic lighting and shaky cam, the visuals imply a realist retelling of Wiseau’s career. But because the film never attempts to look past Wiseau’s persona and because it refuses to actually criticise or find depth in his humanity, the film fails to recreate him as a compelling protagonist and fails as an informative document. Things only get worse when we are shown how incompetent and abusive he was as a director. In a year where toxicity and misogyny in the film industry are being challenged, Wiseau’s antics on-set are off-putting.
In one of the few informative moments of the film, we hear the opinions of the cast and crew, gaining a greater understanding of their experiences and why they would be part of such a production. It made me wish, either, that the film were about these actual human beings, or that it were a documentary exploring what actually happened and tore down some of the mythos surrounding Wiseau. But instead we are given nothing we haven’t already seen before because Franco wanted to do a Tommy Wiseau impression and remake scenes of The Room.
Unfortunately, unlike the film it’s built upon, The Disaster Artist is not-so-bad-it’s-good. It’s competent and interesting enough to hold your attention, but lacks style and narrative focus and is nowhere near as funny as a movie featuring Tommy Wiseau should be. The funniest moments are those we’ve already seen in The Room: Wiseau’s laugh, “Why is he having sex with her belly button?”, “You all betray me!” etc. so you might as well just watch The Room. Where that film was iconic, this is sadly forgettable. If you haven’t seen The Room, go watch that instead, and if you have seen The Room, then…watch The Disaster Artist if you want, but it’s not worth your time.