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Review: The Disaster Artist

December 1, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Tommy Wisseau is the writer, director and star of The Room, an absurdly written, wildly overacted and unintentionally hilarious film that continues to perplex and delight audiences in equal measure.  It holds the honour of being dubbed one of the best-worst movies of all time, and has amassed an incredible cult following its single-theatre release in 2003.

James Franco pays tribute to the making of this accidental and hugely quotable cult classic in The Disaster Artist, serving as both director and star to offer a loving ode to the troubled production of The Room, and the mysterious figure behind it.  The result is unironically one of the best movies of the year.

The film tells the story of struggling actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who meets the accented and flamboyantly over the top Tommy Wisseau (James Franco) at a local theatre event.  Nobody knows where he’s from, how old he is, or where he gets the money to do what he does, but Tommy has a dream to be a movie star, and Greg ends up moving with him to Los Angeles.

When their careers fail to take off, Tommy decides to write and direct his own film, a romantic drama with starring roles for himself and Greg, and he funds the amateur production out of his own seemingly endless cash flow.  He insists upon shooting it on sound stages and in front of green screens, right down to a staged recreation of the actual alley that is just outside, because “this is real Hollywood movie,” and it’s shot simultaneously on film and digital cameras that are set up on the same rig.  The production goes horribly and hilariously awry, going overtime and over budget, with Tommy’s behaviour getting more bizarre and unpredictable on set as he grows seemingly jealous of Greg.

Adapted from Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, the biggest reason why The Disaster Artist works so well is because it never descends into a mean spirited mockery of its larger than life central character, instead paying tribute to the cult classic that he inadvertently created.  The film presents Tommy Wisseau as an eccentric if narcissistic dreamer who has faced the pain of rejection one too many times and just wants some recognition for once in his life, and James Franco is flat-out incredible in the role, having reportedly also directed the film while staying in character.

It’s mesmerizing to watch the always singular actor transform himself into Tommy Wisseau, and he delivers a fearless, force of nature performance here that we can’t take our eyes off of.  He is almost unrecognizable behind the long black hair and makeup to make his face look more weathered, and as Tommy grows more erratic and unhinged as the film goes on, James Franco disappears even deeper into the role, to the point where the similarities between the two actors become almost uncanny.

Dave Franco does career best work alongside his brother, in a stroke of ingenious casting, with the real life siblings playing perfectly off each other, and not even shying away from moments that reveal some awkward sexual tension between their characters.  They are backed up by a phenomenal supporting cast that includes a memorable role for Seth Rogen, who portrays script supervisor Sandy Schklair, as well as hugely entertaining appearances from Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron, who help flesh out the ensemble as some of the stars of The Room.

Regardless of whether or not you have seen The Room beforehand, The Disaster Artist is an extremely entertaining peak behind the curtain of a film set descending into total chaos, as well as a gripping and brilliantly acted character study of the man known as Tommy Wisseau.  The climactic scenes are oddly poignant and also inspiring, providing an offbeat but entirely sincerely ode to dreamers.  It’s a wildly good time, and stay through the end credits for a final surprise.

A version of this review was originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival.

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