The Austin Chronicle

The Disaster Artist

Rated R, 103 min. Directed by James Franco. Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Megan Mullally, Melanie Griffith.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 1, 2017

It’s called the Citizen Kane of bad movies. A WTF film experience like few others, the incomprehensible 2003 melodrama (and unintentional comedy) The Room begs for Mystery Science Theater 3000 cat-calling, a vanity project so bizarrely conceived and ineptly executed that even Edward D. Wood Jr. might disown it. Its Orson Welles? The enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, a mysteriously wealthy man of indiscriminate age and nationality who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in this rotten-tomato opus (at a reputed cost of $6 million) without so much of a clue about how to make a movie. After its initial disastrous release, Wiseau’s flop gained notoriety on the midnight circuit and, as they say, the rest is history. The Room may be the most watchable unwatchable movie ever made.

Multihyphenate James Franco is far less clueless both behind and in front of the camera in The Disaster Artist, a fanboy valentine that affectionately chronicles the making of Wiseau’s train wreck achievement in relatively straightforward fashion, without a smidgen of irony. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is based on the behind-the-scenes memoir by Greg Sestero, the hapless novice who played Mark, the two-timing best friend who betrays Wiseau’s Johnny in the original film. Dave Franco (brother of James) may be much shorter than the real-life Sestero, but without his wide-eyed enthusiasm gradually giving way to disillusionment, The Disaster Artist would merely be an in-joke for the enjoyment of the cult film’s rabid devotees. Much of the film is devoted to re-creating many of the more incoherent scenes in The Room in all their absurdist glory. (My favorite: four guys inexplicably dressed in tuxedos tossing a football in an alleyway while standing about three feet from one another.) The lonely Wiseau (Franco, as in James, in full deadpan squint) may have suffered an unrequited man-crush on the handsome Sestero, as the film suggests, but it’s possible that deep down the mystery man’s heart secretly belonged to Dada.

James Franco’s body of work as a director demonstrates an “I’ll do it my way” cockiness that even his most ardent of critics begrudgingly admire. From his adaptations of unfilmable William Faulkner novels (The Sound and the Fury) to provocative docudramas (Interior. Leather Bar.) to well-crafted episodes in television series like HBO’s The Deuce to a handful of hit-and-miss shorts, he does as he pleases. But does he have the stuff of an artist? The giggles-and-grins vibe of The Disaster Artist reinforces the perception he’s merely dabbling in movies as a lark. Don’t get me wrong – this film is a pleasurable experience, but it’s a frustrating one as well. There’s a nagging feeling we should expect something more from this guy. To borrow the most quotable line of dialogue from The Room (bellowed at the top of the lungs): “YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, FRANCO!”

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