The Disaster Artist Review

by Erik Amaya


James Franco gives the performance of a lifetime in The Disaster Artist, but the film itself may not be the Oscar contender some would like it to be.
Based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, the James Franco-directed film tries to tell the story of Sestero’s relationship with Tommy Wiseau and the making of Wiseau’s opus, The Room. It also tries to honor that film — one of the worst ever made — by recreated some of its key moments and infamous behind-the-scenes stories; like Wiseau naming Sestero’s character after famous actor Mark Damon. Sestero and Bissell’s book is consistently funny and often touching as Sestero tries to understand his friendship with the mysterious filmmaker; which cost him jobs and even a relationship. After The Room‘s release, it made him a laughing stock around town. Nevertheless, he stuck by Wiseau and continues to support his friend’s special Hollywood lunacy. Sometimes, he does through visible embarrassment.
Franco’s film offers a version of Sestero’s recollections. But as director and star, Franco is clearly more enamored with the Wiseau enigma than with Sestero’s quest for understanding. He is the star attraction in the freak show that is The Room, of course, and Franco does an amazing job recreating the nuances of the man’s strange mannerisms, accent and laugh. In fact, one might even be tempted to call his performance award-worthy. But that dedication leads to a film without an anchor — Sestero’s role in the book — and leads to scenes which feel more like sketches than part of a cohesive whole.
That’s not to say they’re bad sketches. Much of The Room‘s production is ripe for comedy as script supervisor Sandy (Seth Rogen) finds himself directing the feature because Tommy’s attention is elsewhere. The attempt to get a usable take of the infamous “I did naht hit her!” scene is a master class in comedic timing and performance. But they exist in a strange ocean of half-complete ideas and condensed episodes from Sestero’s book.
Part of the problem is Dave Franco as Sestero. He’s very much a cipher in this story. To be fair, Sestero is himself kind of a cipher, but becomes knowable in the book thanks to his first hand account of events and attempts to process his time with Wiseau. Dave Franco, meanwhile, lacks the charm and flair Sestero has a person — particularly when you watch the real life Wiseau and Sestero interact. The latter’s bemusement with his friend is infectious. Sadly, it’s something Dave Franco never picks up on and thus gives a more standard movie protagonist performance; leaving him constantly reacting to Franco’s turn as Wiseau instead of driving the story.
None of this should suggest that The Disaster Artist is a bad film. In fact, it’s probably Franco’s best work as a director. He is dedicated to recreating much of the late 1990s/early 2000s low-level Hollywood experience. The results are shockingly faithful considering how radically different Hollywood, the actual district in Los Angeles, is now compared to then. He’s also dedicated to humanizing Wiseau while still presenting him as a fallible and sometimes petulant man; allowing him to be the hero he tried to create for himself in The Room. Even if he is clearly wrong to meddle in Greg’s relationship and career prospects. When the film hits those notes, it is surprisingly poignant. But as a whole, it never achieves all of its goals; a problem that may stem from the director getting into Wiseau’s head in order to play him.
At the same time, someone less familiar with the story may get more out of it. It’s ably directed, well-produced and consistently funny. It also manages to get an interesting pathos out that those who do not know Wiseau and Sestero will no doubt enjoy. And if nothing else, they will find the sort of shenanigans a low-buget production gets into to be quite hilarious. But The Disaster Artist is ultimately two films trying to balance one another out. And if you can forgive its attempt to try and be both, it will be a rewarding filmgoing experience.
The Disaster Artist is in theaters now.

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