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‘The Disaster Artist’ film review: Stranger-than-fiction gold

James Franco delves into the deliciously bizarre and unsolvable life of Tommy Wiseau

  • James Franco plays Tommy Wiseau in ‘The Disaster Artist’.Image Credit: Supplied
  • Dave Franco and James Franco.Image Credit: Supplied

There’s nothing quite like a film that leaves you conflicted not before, not after, but during. And no one pulls this off quite like James Franco in The Disaster Artist, attempting to humanise something so outlandish, it’s hard to think of it as anything other than alien.

It’s as meta as meta gets — a movie about making a movie. To be precise, it’s a movie about making the best worst movie ever made.

Fifteen years ago, Tommy Wiseau — who claims to be an all-American guy from New Orleans despite a distinctive Eastern European accent — moved to Los Angeles with a dream and $6 million (Dh22 million) in hand. He poured himself, and his money, into writing, directing, and starring in The Room, a romantic drama (and boy, is it dramatic) about friendship, love and betrayal. His passion project turned into a cult classic, chock-full of over-the-top acting, horrific editing and dialogue so stiff you could bounce a ball off of it.

Wiseau was so convinced of his work that he paid to keep The Room in theatres for two weeks so that it could qualify for the Oscars — and he put up a five-year billboard in Hollywood, to the tune of $300,000.

This is the kind of stranger-than-fiction gold that gets crazier the deeper you delve into it.

So how in the world did no one think to buy the rights to it before James Franco?

Having seen The Disaster Artist, based on the book written by Wiseau’s friend and co-star Greg Sestero, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it more justice, anyway. As the writer, director and lead actor, James paints a hilarious, poignant and deeply human picture that, much like The Room, tackles friendship, ambition and heartbreak.

Sporting a prosthetic jaw, black locks and an ambiguously slurred accent, James embeds himself right into Wiseau’s skin. He directs his cast — brother Dave, friend Seth Rogan, and a few famous cameo actors — in character the whole time. (In interviews surrounding the film’s release, he continues to slip in and out of his Wiseau impression, unable to let go.) Much like Wiseau, James steals the show on the big screen; Dave does a commendable job playing Sestero, but he’s at times too Dave Franco, unable to disappear wholly into the role. Still, the pair’s chemistry is bittersweet, forming the core humanness of the story.

The lines are ultimately blurred on a project like this. Having your director direct a movie in which he’s a director directing a movie is unusual at best, disorienting at worst. For the audience, it’s equally so. You’re watching Wiseau flay himself for the sake of art, putting his heart and name on the line, only to make something that the audience — both onscreen and in the cinema around you — is laughing at.

It’s kind of heart-wrenching. Wiseau, childlike in his determination, has to navigate these moments of loneliness and humiliation in front of the world, akin to falling face-first into the sandbox in front of the one person you’re trying to impress.

To Wiseau’s credit, his greatest failure turned into his greatest success. The Room still shows in theatres across the world, and Wiseau still tours the globe with it — an esoteric rock star in his own right.

Until this day, nobody knows how old the man is, where he’s from or where he got the money to finance The Room. But that’s the lure of the movie — how surreal and unsolvable it is. Thankfully, James understood this before tackling The Disaster Artist, making no attempts to strip Wiseau’s story of its enigmatic shell.

If you haven’t seen The Room, you can still watch The Disaster Artist, but you won’t delight in it in the same way. The movie’s best moments are the ones that hark back to The Room’s most iconic scenes (“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”). And in this day in age, you can pull up a 10-minute supercut of said scenes online before you venture out to the theatre. Make sure you stay seated after the credits roll, too — you won’t want to miss a nearly identical side-by-side reel of The Disaster Artist and The Room, a nice way to wrap up a loving tribute to one of Hollywood’s most eccentric characters.


Don’t miss it!

The Disaster Artist releases in the UAE on January 4.