A hilarious tribute to a notoriously awful film

by Martin McNamara
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You’d be forgiven for any ignorance of James Franco’s film-making career. Given the mostly negative responses his directorial efforts have received, much of Franco’s work has flown under the radar.

The actor has demonstrated a taste for projects based on work by literary giants, adapting two of William Faulkner’s most famous books and directing a film version of Cormac McCarthy’s violent and perverse novel, Child of God.

With The Disaster Artist, Franco undertakes another literary adaptation, this time tackling Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s non-fiction book of the same name – an account of the making of writer-producer-director-actor Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room, a modern cult classic beloved by hordes and widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made.

While the critical responses to Franco’s aforementioned adaptations were sweepingly negative, The Disaster Artist received a standing ovation at its South By Southwest festival premiere.

One can’t help but feel like Franco was born to play Tommy, effusing all that same chaotic mystery that anyone familiar with The Room can’t quite explain or understand – and can’t help but love.

Franco moulds a story of resounding failure into an inspirational movie-about-a-movie; through Franco, Tommy becomes a chaotic force, inspiring change whether he intends it or not.

Of course, it’ll help if you’ve actually seen The Room before witnessing the bizarre circumstances of its production and the mad, often mystifying man behind it – Franco’s performance may come across just as baffling otherwise.

Tommy Wiseau has to be seen to be believed, so do yourself a favour and check out any of the many interviews with him before purchasing a ticket.

Dave Franco (brother of James) plays Greg Sistero, an aspiring actor living in San Francisco in the late-90s.

After meeting the bizarre, infectious and completely uninhibited Tommy in an acting class, the pair decides to chase success in Los Angeles. When fame seems completely out of reach, Tommy writes, directs and stars in his own movie and Greg agrees to act in it.

Completely funded by Tommy, “The Room” seems sets for disaster, driving Tommy into further delusion and infecting Greg’s professional and personal life.

The Disaster Artist also features Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer as the film’s script-supervisor and DOP – at times the only people holding the production together.

Alison Brie stars as Greg’s girlfriend Amber and Josh Hutcherson as one of “The Room’s” ill-fated actors. However, despite commendable turns from its supporting cast, and cameos from Sharon Stone, Zac Efron and Brian Cranston, The Disaster Artist is all about Tommy.

James’s performance is pitch-perfect and avoids stumbling into impersonation territory, a trap that would have been all too easy to fall into.

Franco becomes Tommy Wiseau and, in the process, turns in one of the most enigmatic and bafflingly inspirational performances we’ve seen this year.

Despite Franco’s directorial fumbles in the past, his fervour and determination as a director is commendable and somewhat mirrors Tommy’s own mad conviction. It’s a real treat, then, to see Franco succeed in that area.

The Disaster Artist often stumbles in terms of narrative coherence, yet remains enlightening, moving, downright hilarious and – one can’t help but feel – a deeply personal project for Franco.

Most significantly, however, it does the impossible – it actually leaves you wanting to watch The Room again.

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