The Disaster Artist  is based on the true story of how the 2003 indie cult film The Room was made. On the surface, the film celebrates the art of filmmaking (even when it’s badly done), and all the empty promises Hollywood emulates to all the dreamers who want to make it big in Tinseltown, regardless of how (un)talented one might be. Yet at the heart of the film lies the odd yet affectionate friendship that sparked the creation of that ill-conceived movie. It marks impressive work both on and off screen from actor James Franco who also directs this funny yet surprisingly earnest film.
Oh Hai, Mark!: The Disaster Artist is told through the eyes of aspiring actor Greg Sestero played by James’ real life brother Dave Franco, in a career-defining performance. Based on his 2013 tell-all book (co-written by Tom Bissell), the story begins when Greg meets the eccentric Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in a San Francisco acting class back in 1998. Greg gets shot down by his acting coach (Melanie Griffith, one of many blink-or-you-miss cameos) after performing a flat and nervous rendition of the famous last scene from the play “Waiting For Godot.” Tommy, on the other hand offers a stark contrast: a bombastic, uninhibited rendition of “Streetcar Named Desire.” Taken by his fearlessness, Greg asks Tommy to be his scene partner for their next class assignment and soon enough, a budding friendship begins and before long, Greg and Tommy are driving down to Los Angeles to make their Hollywood dreams come true. Once in L.A., the duo’s career paths take very different routes. Greg lands an agent (Sharon Stone, a wonderfully unrecognizable cameo), finds romance with a beautiful bartender (Alison Brie) and finds some degree of momentum while Tommy crashes and burns every audition and even manages to piss off a Hollywood producer (Judd Apatow) who Tommy interrupts on a dinner date. But like every other Hollywood story, momentum is fickle and next thing you know Greg has inspired Tommy – who mysteriously has a never-ending cash flow - to direct, write and star in his own movie, with Greg in a large supporting part. What starts off as a naïve creative endeavor unfolds into a mutual disillusion. Tommy, fueled by self-appointed power and simmering jealousy of Greg unprofessionally pours all his frustration on set, much to the chagrin of his cast and crew, particularly his script supervisor (wonderfully played by James Franco’s co-producer and perennial wing man, Seth Rogen) and cinematographer (Paul Sheer). Behind-the-scenes hijinks ensues. Funny and often cringe-worthy but at times painful and shockingly sad. As Franco lovingly and painstakingly recreates scenes from The Room, one can only wonder if he gave the same detailed attention to what truly happened off-camera. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
Because this real Hollywood Movie!: Leave it to James Franco and company to elevate the bromantic comedy to new heights. It’s so apparent that everyone involved in this film has a high regard for its subject matter and everything that comes with it, from The Room fans to Wiseau himself. James Franco’s portrayal of Tommy Wiseau is mesmerizing; an International Man of Mystery in Denial, sporting greasy, long jet-black hair and clad in 1990’s International Male catalog choices. Franco never truly mimics or falls into judgment and parody. He makes us feel for him in every aspect, from his heartbreaks to his passions, however misguided they are. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s screenplay adaptation moves like clockwork and even though it paints a more simplistic picture on screen than Sestero’s book, the screenplay hits the right notes. Perhaps that’s the one tiny drawback of The Disaster Artist is its simplistic take on deeper themes that Franco teases us with but never truly delves into. But that’s what Sestero’s book is for. Plus, we’ll always have The Room to enjoy or loathe. What makes The Disaster Artist more than a breezy, enjoyable buddy film is its unabashed embrace of failure and the good that comes out of it.