Movie Review: “The Disaster Artist” Gives His All, and Still makes an Awful Movie

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Everything James Franco has done with his life, his work and his fame up until now reveals its purpose in “The Disaster Artist.”

Backing into stardom, passing himself off as a polymath — acting, writing fiction, directing, taking classes here, teaching classes there — the posse of pals he’s stayed friends with, even the coy games Franco plays with his sexuality, all bear fruit in this deftly-executed appreciation of the film that would replace “Plan Nine From Outer Space” as “the worst film ever made.”

Franco directs, stars and rounds up legions of Hollywood friends and acquaintances for this comic dissection of how Tommy Wiseau‘s “The Room” was made — and why. And he concocts an impersonation of the mysterious, delusional fanatic who wrote, directed starred-in and financed that fiasco that is so spot-on, he dares compare scenes from “The Room” with his recreations for “The Disaster Artist” before the closing credits.

The genius of Franco’s performance, capturing the off-camera bravado, the refusal to listen to reason from cast and crew, the bullying on the set and the tin-eared English-as-a-second-language screenwriting, is that Tommy was the only one who didn’t see any of this.

And watch the other actors playing the awful actors in the film — Josh Hutcherson, Dave Franco, Zac Efron and especially the leading lady of “The Room,” played here by Ari Graynor. They cannot tamp down their skill-set to hide their camera-wise charisma.

Franco as Wiseau? He just lumbers on, a man of undetermined age, origins or finances, a clueless fool who has to be told how to embrace his fiasco and profit from it, as if he was in on a multi-million dollar joke he accidentally played on himself all along.

“Disaster Artist” captures the relationship between Wiseau and his co-star and pal, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). They meet in acting class, where Sestero is challenged, “Do you even WANT to be an actor?” by the teacher, played by a testy Melanie Griffith. But Wiseau, long dyed-black locks flowing over his multi-belted marching band uniform (with pirate shirt) jacket and leather rocker pants, harbors no doubts. Dressed like a cast-off from Prince and the Revolution, he is “fearless.”

And he is truly awful. To hear him “do the Shakespeare,” to howl through Stanley Kowalski’s “Stelllaaaaaaaa” from “A Streetcar Named Desire” (by “The Tennessee Williams”) is to know terrible acting on sight.

Tommy and Greg become inseparable. Greg’s best efforts are getting him nowhere, despite his good looks and ready smile. Tommy, told he’s “a natural villain” by one teacher (Bob Oedenkirk), isn’t hearing it. He has to be shouted down during an attempted mid-dinner “audition” for a producer (Judd Apatow, wickedly mean), who informs him that “Just because you want it, doesn’t mean it will happen” for him.

“Not in a MILLION YEARS!”

Tommy isn’t dissuaded.

“And after that?”

He will hurl his way-over-40 body and Slavic accent at a movie that he and Greg will make together. He will write, direct and produce and star in it. The equipment rental company (Hannibal Burress and Jason Mantzoukas) cannot talk him into doing the smart thing, renting the gear he’ll need for the film. No, Tommy will buy it.

Casting the actors and hiring the crew (Seth Rogen is the sarcastic, “Whatever dude” script supervisor who becomes de facto assistant director) with demented how-to-play-the-scene instructions and simple gut feelings isn’t smart either.

“I have VISION!”

And playing a part in a romantic melodrama without knowing the vernacular of film or American English well enough only deepens our sense that he’s disconnected from reality. With all the money he seems to have to throw at this, he’s too nutty to spend it wisely, his reasons for doing the whole project boiling down to trying to impress his American actor friend.

What Franco and friends were going for here is another “Ed Wood,” but “Disaster Artist” isn’t about sweet but untalented people living in a collective delusional dream. Tommy seems to be the only one truly lost on his “planet.”

One Hollywood spin on the story is the way the crew is presented in this film about a film. They’re as professional as the situation will allow, especially in the early days of the shoot — arguing, shouting down his bad behavior but still taking his money.

Watch “The Room.” tell me you cannot feel the contempt of the crew, the greed of the equipment folks (who also rented him soundstages) in every frame. It’s an ugly, incompetent film, and their “I’ll take this idiot’s money” hatred is only diluted by their certainty that this garbage will never see the light of day.

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It’s not touching the way “Ed Wood” was, and slapping a handful of stars (Kristen Bell) and Hollywood heavyweights (J.J. Abrams) in the opening,  singing the praises of the warped vision of “The Room,” distances us from the characters as much as the lengthy closing-credits scene-by-scene comparisons of “The Room” and Franco & Co.’s detailed recreation of those scenes.

It’s more clever than brilliant, more respectfully mocking than affecting, and it allows us to step back and consider the wisdom of the whole enterprise — hurling legions of stars and lots of Hollywood cash at a movie about making a really bad — though not the “worst ever made” — motion picture.

But as with “The Room,” Franco lets us believe that his Tommy, the director and star, is utterly convinced of the worthiness of the cause and utterly sold on telling this, the greatest story that should never have been told.

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(Read Roger Moore’s review of “The Room” here.)

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson

Credits:Directed by James Franco, script by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber. An A24 release.

Running time: 1:43

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