A por­trait of the film­maker as an enig­matic hack

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Michael O’Sul­li­van Justina Mintz, A24

★★¼5 Rated R. 98 min­utes.

Into this sea­son of the Se­ri­ous Movie, when ev­ery other film seems to speak to the trou­bled times in which we ac­tu­ally live, the fact-based, yet far­ci­cal “The Dis­as­ter Artist” blows like a fresh breeze, throw­ing open a win­dow through which we may es­cape, briefly, from ugly re­al­ity.

In­spired by the mak­ing of the movie “The Room” — a la­bor of cin­e­matic in­ep­ti­tude that has been called “the ‘Cit­i­zen Kane’ of bad movies” — this sweet, af­fec­tion­ate (and un­apolo­get­i­cally slight) com­edy is an all-too-rare homage to harm­less, hi­lar­i­ous in­com­pe­tence, at a time when there is plenty of the more hurt­ful kind to go around. If it isn’t quite up to the stan­dards of “Ed Wood,” Tim Bur­ton’s 1994 trib­ute to the au­teur of such mis­be­got­ten fruits of moviemak­ing as “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” it is nonethe­less a much-needed dis­trac­tion.

For those who don’t know, “The Room” was the brain­child (for lack of a bet­ter word) of one Tommy Wiseau, a mys­te­ri­ous no­body who wrote, di­rected, pro­duced and starred in the 2003 van­ity project, a box of­fice dud that has gone on to be­come a sta­ple of rau­cous, sold-out mid­night screen­ings. The plot of Wiseau’s movie, to the ex­tent that there is one, con­cerns noth­ing more com­plex than a love tri­an­gle. Its hall­marks are wooden per­for­mance, bad di­a­logue, per­plex­ingly ran­dom char­ac­ters and plot points that go nowhere, and pro­tracted, awk­ward sex, among other flaws.

In “The Dis­as­ter Artist,” James Franco also wears mul­ti­ple hats, di­rect­ing, pro­duc­ing and star­ring as the real-life Tommy, whom he im­per­son­ates mar­velously, be­neath a long, jet­black wig and dark, wrap­around glasses, ren­der­ing his al­ter ego’s amus­ingly uniden­ti­fi­able ac­cent and slightly de­mented laugh with pok­er­faced glee. (Tommy rou­tinely tells peo­ple he’s from New Or­leans, al­though East­ern Europe is prob­a­bly closer to the truth.) Other char­ac­ters are ren­dered less con­vinc­ingly than their re­al­life coun­ter­parts, with an as­sort­ment of fake-look­ing dye jobs, wigs and fa­cial hair that make the cast of “The Dis­as­ter Artist” seem, in­con­gru­ously, less real than the char­ac­ters in “The Room.”

Like the book on which it’s based, a mem­oir by Wiseau’s “The Room” costar Greg Ses­tero and writer Tom Bis­sell, the events of “The Dis­as­ter Artist” un­fold not from Tommy’s point of view, but from the per­spec­tive of Greg (Dave Franco), an as­pir­ing 19year-old ac­tor who meets the 40-some­thing Tommy in a San Fran­cisco the­ater class. When the two un­tal­ented hacks com­mis­er­ate about their lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties, Tommy sug­gests mov­ing to Los An­ge­les, where they end up mak­ing their own movie, fi­nanced, re­port­edly, by $6 mil­lion of Tommy’s money (al­though where that cash comes from is a mys­tery, like al­most ev­ery­thing else about Wiseau). The screen­play, by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, con­tains the vague but un­mis­tak­able sug­ges­tion that Tommy is a lit­tle bit in love with Greg, al­though their friend­ship — which frames the nar­ra­tive and does much to hu­man­ize Tommy — re­mains pla­tonic.

Frus­trat­ingly, this preda­tory

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But there’s a Tommy Wiseau-shaped hole at the cen­ter of this project, de­spite Neustadter and Weber’s ef­forts to ren­der Tommy as sym­pa­thetic, if not en­tirely com­pre­hen­si­ble, ei­ther syn­tac­ti­cally or psy­cho­log­i­cally. In in­ter­views, the real Wiseau comes across as mad­den­ingly eva­sive and op­por­tunis­tic. If Franco’s Tommy is a cipher, so is the man he’s por­tray­ing.

This void spoils some of the giddy fun of “Dis­as­ter.” Al­though the film is in­tended more as a love let­ter than an ex­pose, there are nag­ging ques­tions that some view­ers might wish to see ad­dressed, but prob­a­bly never will. (Wiseau has fought to pre­vent the re­lease of an un­flat­ter­ing doc­u­men­tary por­trait called “A Room Full of Spoons.”)

Who’s ex­ploit­ing whom here, in a cul­tural trans­ac­tion that has com­mod­i­fied dreck?

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