Triumph out of disaster
IF Charlie Chaplin was correct that it takes courage to make a fool of yourself, Tommy Wiseau might be the bravest fool to have walked the streets of Hollywood.
In 2003, actor and film-maker Wiseau emerged from a stretched limousine for the world premiere of his independently financed romantic drama, The Room.
The first-night audience howled in derision at the wooden performances, clunky dialogue and indulgent sex scenes.
In the intervening years, the film has turned a profit thanks to late-night screenings that encourage vociferous audience participation, which includes throwing plastic spoons at the screen in tribute to a rogue prop.
James Franco adopts dual roles as director and actor for a tonguein-cheek dramatisation of the making of The Room, based on an award-winning memoir penned by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.
The Disaster Artist lovingly recounts the genesis of Wiseau’s magnum hopeless, mining uproarious humour from the camaraderie between cast and crew as the shoot lurches from outrageous misfortune to catastrophe.
Franco delivers a touching performance as the quixotic ringmaster of the circus, starring opposite younger brother Dave and sister-in-law Alison Brie, who play a young couple sucked into Wiseau’s self-destructive orbit.
The film opens in 1998 San Francisco, where nice guy Greg (Dave Franco) is struggling to find his voice in acting classes run by Jean Shelton (Melanie Griffith).
He yearns to be fearless like fellow thesp Tommy (James Franco) – an enigmatic figure of questionable age with an indecipherable accent that suggests an upbringing in Eastern Europe.
The two wannabes drive down the coast to Los Angeles where Greg snares a pretty girlfriend (Brie) and an agent (Sharon Stone).
Meanwhile, Tommy’s unconventional acting style elicits a barrage of rejections.
“I’m not saying ‘maybe’. I’m saying ‘not in a million years’,” growls one stunned producer.
“And after that?” Tommy counters hopefully.
Unperturbed by Hollywood’s reluctance to roll out a red carpet, Tommy and Greg make their own film, working from a ramshackle script that Tommy bashes out on his typewriter. The friends hire an experienced crew including script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), director of photography Raphael Smadja (Paul Scheer) and head of make-up Amy Von Brock (Kelly Oxford).
Tommy snaffles the demanding lead role opposite Greg.
After a stirring welcome speech, Tommy calls “Action” for the first time and it becomes apparent that the captain of the sinking ship is an emotionally volatile egotist.
The Disaster Artist seems too outlandish to be tethered to fact but side-by-side comparison shots over the end credits reveal the meticulous attention to detail in recreated scenes.
The two Francos are a delightfully demented double-act. The elder sibling flirts with a potential Oscar nomination for his gung-ho embodiment of artistic bravado in freefall.
Somehow, Wiseau flossed infamy and success from the slavering jaws of defeat. His star twinkles brightly through Franco’s lens.