Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

From director James Franco, who continues to make a name for himself in Hollywood not only as a maturing actor, but as a producer and filmmaker as well, comes possibly his most startling breakthrough yet in this month's The Disaster Artist. Taking on the reins of director, producer, and star, in a bold feature that worked to dissect the making of one of the worst films ever made in 2003's The Room, it would seem Franco has struck gold in reveling in the peculiar tragedy of The Room's eccentric mastermind Tommy Wiseau. Crafting a hilarious, obscure, and undeniably inspirational peek inside the movie-making process, all through the eyes of his fascinating portrayal of Wiseau, James Franco delivered one of his best films to date with this off-beat masterpiece. 

In the early 2000s, struggling actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets the mysterious and outlandish personality that is Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Both set on their own unique path towards gaining fame and recognition, the two nobodies instantly bond over their dreams of making it big one day. In a sporadic move, the duo of Sestero and Wiseau pack up their lives in San Francisco to embark into the jungle that is Los Angeles. As Sestero fails to gain a leg up in Hollywood as an actor, and Wiseau makes his own rounds in the business, the two friends agree to make their own movie, financed completely by Wiseau. Unfolding into what would become a friendship tested by deceit and one costly filmmaking process, Wiseau and Sestero set out to make a film like no other -- a maligned bomb that would eventually explode into a cult classic.

Much like Tommy Wiseau, James Franco has always remained somewhat of a mystery to me. While he might have gotten his start on the iconic 1999 series Freaks and Geeks, his career would blossom into a peculiar mix of both dramatic roles and comedic, often-self-mocking ones as his career matured. Starring in films like Tristan & Isolde and Flyboys early on in his career, which challenged his more dramatic side, I've always found Franco to be fully at home when was met with more comedic roles. From the self-referential to the controversial, starring in films such as This Is the End and The Interview, Franco often seemed at his best when he was set against a satirical backdrop. Of course, once he started directing, I was curious to see just what genres he might grapple to. While many of his more ambitious directorial features, like 2013's As I Lay Dying, might have slipped through my radar, a project as inspired and unexpected as Franco's The Disaster Artist was nearly impossible to miss.

While I'd always seen Franco as a jokester, toying around on-screen with the likes of Seth Rogen and his other Hollywood pals, I never expected him to venture so far as to take a film as infamous as 2003's The Room and craft such a devoted and hilarious narrative around the making of it. While the project, detailing the elaborate yet highly cryptic origins of actor/director Tommy Wiseau and his budding friendship with struggling actor Greg Sestero, might have easily turned into an obvious conduit for parody, James Franco's take on the story quickly became something entirely more brilliant. Becoming less mocking of Wiseau and his disaster of a film (which ultimately manifested into a cult classic), and more of a tribute to the uplifting journey towards fame of both Wiseau and Sestero, The Disaster Artist offered up a fascinating tangent of Franco's ever-maturing skills as a filmmaker.

All the credit for The Disaster Artist evolving from a self-mocking biopic to a tale of true inspiration can't be given simply to Franco's role as director, of course. It was his eccentric turn as Tommy Wiseau that ultimately hallmarked the film, and gave its uplifting story a passionate leading man. While we've seen Franco tackle real-life faces like James Dean and the subject of the acclaimed film 127 Hours, outdoorsman Aron Ralston, in the past, it was his nuanced take as Wiseau that kept the ship of The Disaster Artist afloat and sailing with confidence. While the first moments that we're introduced to Franco's Wiseau might seem simply like the actor doing a rather-impressive impression of The Room filmmaker, strange Eastern European accent and all, it was by the end of the film that the two appeared almost as one. Summoning not only Wiseau's enigmatic behavior and mannerisms, but also his innate devotion to both the filmmaking process and his friendship with Sestero, Franco's performance strayed from devolving into a well-versed impersonation, and managed to capture the emotional essence of what truly made Tommy Wiseau such a strange character in himself.

The supporting cast, which included a slew of Hollywood faces mimicking the likenesses of The Room's own obscure cast, also proved to be nearly as entertaining as Franco's Wiseau. With James' younger brother Dave Franco leaping into the naive shoes of initial Room collaborator and Wiseau's partner-in-crime Greg Sestero, Franco #2 provided effective chemistry with his older brother. Much like James' Wiseau, Dave's performance matured as the film went on to ultimately capture the curiosity and hostility Sestero always seemed to have towards the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau. With familiar faces like Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, and Zac Efron also filling the cast, among a stack of celebrity cameos, while The Disaster Artist might have tilted much of its attention on the Franco brothers and their compelling portrayals, it also shined light on some of the minor players who witnessed the making of the ultimate disaster-piece. 

Channeling its inner Ed Wood to deliver a fascinating dive into the unique vision of one man and his dreams of making his own "big Hollywood movie" like no other, James Franco's The Disaster Artist managed to be a star-studded parody masked superbly in a mix of elegant hilarity and nuanced performances. With the memory of The Room ringing in the back of my brain as I sat in the theater, watching the behind-the-scenes journey of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero's Hollywood takeover unfold across the screen was a purely entertaining and unforgettable experience.

I gave The Disaster Artist an 8 out of 10 for its phenomenal lead performance and ambitious direction by James Franco, its star-studded cast who delivered sharp chemistry against Franco's peculiar lead, and its hilarious and touching tribute to one of the greatest bad movies ever made.    

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