A portrait of the filmmaker as an enigmatic hack
★★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
Disaster Artist Rated R ★★¼5 Reviewed on this page Just Getting Started Rated PG-13
Not reviewed Shape of Water Rated R ★★★5 Reviewed on 10C Tom of Finland Unrated ★★★5 Reviewed on 6C Wonder Wheel Rated PG-13 ★¼55 Reviewed on 6C aspect of their relationship is mostly ignored, in a sunny tale that is packed with laughs (albeit fewer than you’ll find at an actual screening of “The Room,” where people throw things at the screen and shout out quips on cue, a la “the Rocky Horror Picture Show”). Seeing “The Room” beforehand isn’t a prerequisite. Franco slavishly duplicates many of the, er, best moments from the 2003 film, and they’re good fun, even for newbies. The cast includes, in small roles, such comic actors as Seth Rogan, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Sheer, Nathan Fieldler and Zac Efron.
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?