Updated: Wednesday, December 6, 2017, 5:54 PM
In the funny and alarmingly factual The Disaster Artist, a man named Tommy Wiseau, who made (and starred in and financed) what is reputed to the worst movie ever made, wonders if his film will find an audience.
“Not in a million years,” someone says.
Wiseau (played cleverly by James Franco) is undeterred.
“But after that?”
The response is pure Wiseau — weirdly sincere and completely ridiculous — and it gets a laugh, but the joke resonates in a profound way.
Because his 2003 self-released movie, The Room, did find its audience, and has become an enduring source of joy to thousands of fans who celebrate the movie’s ineptness in midnight screenings all over the globe.
Is it the worst movie ever? The consensus for years had been Plan 9 of Outer Space, itself the subject of another amusing “making of” movie, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp as Plan 9’s oddball director.
But Franco’s film (he directs) is a different beast, and its subject, The Room, is a different kind of bad. Ed Wood was a director. Tommy Wiseau is a wannabe star who directed (and produced) mainly to ensure that the world would have the opportunity to gaze upon his pallid complexion, his heavy-metal hair, his palsied football-throwing, and his bare rear end.
Ed Wood worked on a shoestring. Mystery-man Wiseau has access to vast reserves of money, which he spends lavishly on the movie. It’s a source of humor in The Disaster Artist — one funny bit has crew member Seth Rogen at the bank, registering astonishment and pleasure when his paycheck clears. (Rogen leads a cameo-strewn cast of actors who have fallen for the The Room, including David Cross, Josh Hutcherson, Bryan Cranston, Jacki Weaver, and Kristen Bell).
Rogen, playing the misbegotten movie’s script supervisor, also helps soften scenes that show Wiseau bullying his cast members — as when Wiseau insists on shooting a sex scene in a way that demeans his female star (Ari Graynor). Wiseau invokes Hitchcock and Kubrick in asserting his right to be an onset jerk, a self-inflating idea that Rogen punctures with a well-timed (especially given recent events) joke.
By coincidence, or maybe not, Melanie Griffith (daughter of Hitchcock muse Tippi Hedren) turns up in the opening scene as Wiseau’s acting coach, staring speechlessly at his over-the-top Brando imitation. Wiseau doesn’t have talent, but he has courage, and it attracts the admiration of fellow acting student Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, brother of James). Wiseau and Sestero, who wrote the book the movie is based on, form a friendship that’s tested in Hollywood, where hard-luck acting experiences prompt a frustrated Wiseau to write, fund, and direct The Room.
The Disaster Artist really hangs on James Franco’s performance. He’s an uncanny mimic of Wiseau’s legendary accent and mannerisms, but what he really nails is Wiseau’s complete lack of self-awareness. These attributes allow Wiseau to create a work of art disconnected from any notion of how others might view it. It’s why The Room is both flagrantly incompetent and strangely heroic (stay tuned through the credits to see how The Room and The Disaster Artist line up).
Does The Disaster Artist have fun at Wiseau’s expense? The movie makes a convincing case that Wiseau wanted, above all, to be liked, and that The Room has become a means to that happy end.
Also, if Franco is making fun of Wiseau, he gets a pass from me. After all, in my favorite Franco movie — This Is The End — he makes merciless fun of another full-of-himself actor: James Franco.
MOVIES The Disaster Artist Directed by James Franco. Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Dave Franco, Ary Graynor, David Cross and Alison Brie. Distributed by A24. Running time: 1 hour, 44 mins. Parents guide: R (language, nudity) Playing at: Ritz Five