WORK­ING THE ROOM

The Disas­ter Artist gives a Franco look at its di­rec­tor-star

Calgary Herald - - MOVIES - JAKE COYLE

Who is Tommy Wiseau?

It’s a ques­tion that has long be­fud­dled and end­lessly amused fans of The Room, the in­fa­mously bad 2003 movie Wiseau di­rected, self-fi­nanced and starred in. Where did this bill­board-self­pro­mot­ing, Ter­mi­na­tor-sun­glasses-wear­ing Frozen Cave­man Lawyer knock-off come from? (He has claimed New Or­leans but in­ves­ti­ga­tion — and his ac­cent — sug­gest Poland.) How old is he? (No one knows, but older than he has said.) And where did he get his ap­par­ent wealth? (The movie cost US$6 mil­lion to make, partly be­cause Wiseau in­sisted on shoot­ing on both 35mm film and dig­i­tal.)

It’s also a ques­tion that James Franco’s The Disas­ter Artist, a com­edy about Wiseau and the mak­ing of The Room, has no in­ter­est in an­swer­ing. That’s be­cause The Disas­ter Artist isn’t re­ally about Tommy Wiseau. It’s about James Franco.

A quick re­cap for the unini­ti­ated. The Room ran for two weeks in Los An­ge­les (Wiseau wanted it to qual­ify for the Os­cars) and was roundly panned as a sin­gu­larly ter­ri­ble movie. But it found a Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show-like cult, with sold­out mid­night screen­ings that con­tinue to run. Devo­tees were thrilled by the movie’s cheesy film­mak­ing, its strange, woe­ful im­i­ta­tion of Ten­nessee Williams di­a­logue (“You’re tear­ing me apart, Lisa!”), its bizarre nar­ra­tive in­con­gruities (one char­ac­ter an­nounces hav­ing cancer, only for it never to be talked of again) and its pro­lif­er­a­tion of spoons through­out (which fans bring to throw at screen­ings).

Wiseau’s friend and co-star Greg Ses­tero later co-wrote the 2013 book with au­thor Tom Bis­sell, ti­tled The Disas­ter Artist: My Life In­side The Room, the Great­est Bad Movie Ever Made, about the in­ept mak­ing of the film — fram­ing it as a nut­tier ver­sion of clas­sic Hol­ly­wood tales like Sun­set Boule­vard. Franco, him­self, re­viewed the book, con­clud­ing that Wiseau wasn’t just a punch­line but was an out­landish ver­sion of ev­ery fum­bling as­pi­rant to Hol­ly­wood. “In so many ways, Tommy c’est moi,” wrote Franco.

To be sure, The Disas­ter Artist, which is based on Ses­tero and Bis­sell’s book, will ap­peal most to fans of The Room. Much of it plays like a pre­quel. Our first, im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able shot of Tommy (Franco with a long, jet-black mane) is in sil­hou­ette, as if John Wayne is mak­ing his en­trance. He and Ses­tero meet at act­ing class, start read­ing lines to­gether and are soon headed to Los An­ge­les to make it big.

I can’t say I ever found The Room nearly as funny as oth­ers. Wiseau is far from an out­lier in hav­ing mis­be­got­ten, even de­mented delu­sions of fame. He’s kind of a tragic fig­ure, an im­mi­grant try­ing to hide his past while mak­ing what he hopes will be an “all-Amer­i­can” movie.

And large swaths of The Disas­ter Artist play off the joke of a hap­less goon try­ing to cast him­self as James Dean. As a movie about Wiseau, The Disas­ter Artist isn’t very good. He re­mains a mys­tery through­out. Aside from a spot-on, SNL-ready im­pres­sion of Wiseau, there’s just not much here be­sides a jum­ble of recre­ations and al­lu­sions to The Room.

Yet as a movie about James Franco, The Disas­ter Artist is a smash hit. Franco pop­u­lates the film with friends and co­me­di­ans, from Ja­son Mant­zoukas to Seth Ro­gen (also a pro­ducer). Franco’s brother, Dave, stars along­side him as Ses­tero, mak­ing the ho­mo­erotic bro­mance be­tween the char­ac­ters an out­right lark. It’s not a co­in­ci­dence that the big-name pro­ducer Wiseau awk­wardly ap­proaches at a restau­rant (and per­forms Ham­let to) is played by Judd Apa­tow, who gave Franco his first break on Freaks and Geeks nearly two decades ago.

The 39-year-old Franco, who has now di­rected some 18 movies, has long been drawn to all things meta, and, on that score, The Disas­ter Artist is his piece de re­sis­tance. There’s some­thing joy­ful about the Franco brothers play­ing a fun­house mir­ror ver­sion of their own Hol­ly­wood ar­rival, and the film’s best scenes are with Ro­gen’s pro­duc­tion man­ager, aghast at Tommy’s in­com­pe­tence.

When Tommy in­tro­duces The Room at its pre­mière, Franco might as well be speak­ing for him­self. “This my move and this my life,” he says. “OK. Be cool.”

JUSTINA MINTZ/A24

Brothers Dave, left, and James Franco co-star in The Disas­ter Artist, a movie based on a book based on a movie — namely Tommy Wiseau’s cult clas­sic The Room.

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