THE DISASTER ARTIST, US, 2017. Starring Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jackie Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullaly, Jason Mantzoukas. Directed by James Franco. 104 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).
They say seeing is believing. In the case of The Disaster Artist, seeing is actually disbelieving! Who would believe that this is a true story?
It is the story of actor, writer, director, Tommy Wisau, a man who in fact had covered himself in mystery, claiming to be from New Orleans, to be only in his 20s, with a very strange accent, an amateur film-maker. (While the end of the film says that his origins are still unknown, one has only to Google him to find that he was actually born in Poland in 1955 – and has done a little more filmmaking than The Disaster Artist might suggest.) It should be said that Wisau collaborated in the making of this film and has a guest appearance.
The first question to ask is whether the audience has actually seen his film, The Room. It has been in circulation for 13 years or more and has become quite a cult film, screening at midnight sessions, eliciting audience response, vocal response, as it unfolds on the screen. After the success of this film and its nominations and awards, The Room might make a whole lot more money at the cult box office!
James Franco is a prolific, more than prolific, writer, actor and director, several projects every year for the last years. This time he acts and directs, immersing himself in the bizarre appearance, gaunt and sallow face, long black hair, that odd accent, of Tommy Wisau. He casts his younger brother, Dave, as Greg Sestero, the star of the film, caught up in an odd friendship with Wisau, some mutual dependency, later author of a book about his experience in making The Room.
Dave Franco, in all his films, has an immediate smiling face and so is well cast as the rather naive, exuberantly enthusiastic, ultimately partly disillusioned Sestero. Greg and Tommy are both in acting school and Tommy takes a shine to Greg, especially in a football scene where Tommy is hopeless at kicking and passing the ball. However, off they go to Hollywood to fulfil ambitions. Not easy until Tommy gets the bright idea that he should make his own film.
Most of the film is about the making of the film, scheduled for 40 days but going well beyond 50. Tommy hasn’t much of a clue about equipment but buys some, not too much of a grasp of what the technical crew actually does and employs a range of actors, generally on some kind of whim or intuition. He writes his screenplay of The Room and off they go. The making of the film is very funny for the audience but, generally, we are laughing at Tommy, something which happens at the premiere of the finished film.
There is a very interesting supporting cast led by Seth Rogen as the film editor who has to take over some of the role of director, especially when Tommy acts (67 takes in his first sequence where he continues to forget the lines), Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson as his friends, Ari Graynor as Lisa, the girlfriend, and, an interesting choice, Jacki Weaver as the mother.
James Franco does a very good job communicating the eccentricities, the moods, the self-centredness, the vindictiveness (even against Greg moving out of the apartment with his girlfriend), and the unflappable self-confidence in thinking that he is making the greatest film on earth.
The premiere sequence is a highlight but audiences will very much enjoy the device of having sequences with the actors in this film in split screen along with the original sequences. In these, Wisau has to be seen to be believed/disbelieved, a far worse a performer than Franco trying to mimic his badness.
Quite a different film about film-making – but, Tommy Wisau, who does appear in this film, is still around and involved in film-making.
Roadshow Released December 7th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.