When it was announced James Franco would be making The Disaster Artist, it seemed like a perfect match. His biopic is based on the making of The Room, a film considered the best worst film ever made. The Room was written, directed, produced by the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (and he also cast himself as the lead). The Room was released in 2003, and although it was panned to the point pure mockery, it has gained ultimate cult status since. Much of that has to do with Wiseau, whose ineptitude both in front of and behind the camera is stuff of legend.

Interestingly, Franco has a persona that’s considered a little skewed and left of center, thus he isn’t that detached from Wiseau. A five-minute observation of his role in Spring Breakers, where he played a low-level drug dealer named Alien (“Why you actin’ ’spicious?”), is also the stuff of legend. He obviously has seen The Room and harbors the same affinity for it many others have. For Franco, though, he’s a Hollywood actor, so he has the ability to pay tribute to Wiseau and shed some light on The Room’s backstory. His latest is a tale of egotism wrapped around the idea that loyalty, friendship and betrayal go hand in hand, and they are important factors towards success.

Franco served as both director and star of The Disaster Artist. As Tommy Wiseau, Franco is spectacular. Wiseau is as interesting and bizarre as they come. He has a love for acting but he’s not a good actor. He’s of an unspecified older age yet he acts like he’s in his 20’s. He sports an accent that screams Eastern European but he claims he’s from New Orleans. Tommy is also independently wealthy (jury’s out on the source of his finances) but dresses like a combination of a hobo, rock star and pirate. He’s not of the norm and it’s what makes Tommy stand out. Franco, in real life, could easily be synonymous with Wiseau, and that’s what allows him to shine as Tommy. His performance is an eerie carbon copy of Wiseau, and his inclusion of point-for-point replicated scenes from The Room support this notion. It’s difficult to act badly intentionally (while also imitating a real-life person), but Franco nails it. Because of that, Franco is an Oscar contender, which is expected by few and a surprise to many.

Keeping that in mind, Franco’s vision for The Disaster Artist is a little confusing. Based on the trailers Franco may have been looking to mock Wiseau and The Room. But throughout the 103-minute feature it he constantly reminds audiences he of his respect for the source material. Intentions become blurrier when much of the film’s humor capitalizes on Tommy’s eccentric and self-centered personality (“I need to show my ass to sell this picture.”). By including a subplot in which Tommy’s jealous of his friend and co-star Greg Sestero (real-life sibling Dave Franco), Franco attempts to humanize Tommy. But it only ramps up his egotism as Tommy channels his insecurities into the troubled production of The Room (Tommy refuses to pay for air conditioning, or even water, and his “vision” often alienates the cast and crew). In short, The Disaster Artist doesn’t know what it wants to be – a faithful tribute or a humorous cautionary tale warning of the ills of filmmaking.

The Disaster Artist is based on the book co-written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, and the script was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (both Neustadter and Weber collaborated to write (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now). It co-stars Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, and includes a myriad of cameos. Considering the massive amount of high-profile appearances scattered throughout Franco’s feature it’s safe to say many in Hollywood love The Room, too (or maybe they owe Franco favors).

Overall, The Disaster Artist is a good time. It’s definitely a step up on The Room, but when judged strictly on its own merits it would’ve done better to commit fully towards one path. It’s worth a look for those who love The Room (or are just curious). Those with a thirst for outstanding performances should seek this out for Franco’s turn as Wiseau. Otherwise, it’s not a must-see regardless of its intended vision.

3.5 stars out of 5


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