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Movie Review: James Franco’s ‘The Disaster Artist’

The biographical The Disaster Artist stars real-life brothers Dave (Now You See Me) and James Franco (127 Hours, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) in the true story of the two aspiring actors who eventually created the infamous 2003 cult hit movie The Room (now a worldwide midnight movie staple). The Disaster Artist might easily be called “When Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau.”

The filmmakers recreated more than 20 minutes of The Room for The Disaster Artist, which challenged set designers, cinematographers, director (James Franco), costume workers and, of course, the cast (the side-by-side comparisons during the ending credits are priceless). All these talented folks impress as James Franco’s already award-nominated lead performance of Tommy catapults this unique, unpredictable film to high places.

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber wrote the 104-minute screenplay, based on Greg and Tommy’s book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.”

The Disaster Artist begins with a documentary-style sequence where real actors, crew and filmmakers (e.g. J.J. Abrams) sing the praises of The Room and its longevity. Actor Adam Scott (TV’s Parks and Recreation) points out how The Room gets more notoriety and attention than recent Oscar® winners. (Admit it, it’s hard for most moviegoers to recollect the past five Best Picture winners).

Tommy’s a different guy. He’s misunderstood. His history is a mystery (birthplace? age? sources of his livelihood?). Maybe he had an accident, which could have created more sympathy for him, but filmmakers and the large cast (very familiar with each other) won’t give the audience much closure here – even teasing how Tommy’s mysterious origins are still unknown today. It’s his actions that count, so don’t count on familiar flashbacks and surprise revelations in Tommy’s background.

Filmmakers quickly establish Tommy’s passionate emotions and motivations early so his ensuing actions do not distract from the overall story – his filmmaking passions and desire to be accepted by society. Tommy doesn’t want the easy way to Hollywood stardom, mainly to be typecast as a villain, which reveals his misunderstood, sensitive side.

The eccentric business of filmmaking reveals more about Tommy to the audience as the supporting characters like Carolyn, well played by Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook, Animal Kingdom), delivers lines that spread the filmmaking passion as she says one bad day on set is better than any other job when younger cast members asks her why she travels so far to be on The Room set every day.

It would have been great to see Weaver’s role expanded along with Ari Graynor (I’m Dying Up Here) as The Room‘s leading lady Juliette Danielle and Alison Brie as a local named Amber who closely connects with Greg.

Greg also dreams of stardom and Hollywood notoriety as he shares related passions with Tommy like their shared admiration of James Dean (the inspiration for Tommy’s memorable “You are tearing me apart!”) after meeting at an acting class covering Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The Franco brothers casting is perfect because it prevents any distracting sidebars of unneeded action and possible tension stemming from Greg’s sudden living space arrangement with Tommy – a chief concern for Greg’s mother, played by Megan Mullally (TV’s Will & Grace). This arrangement allows the film to focus on their promise to support each other during their Hollywood journey.

The endless frequent Franco collaborators and other cast members rival The Player’s cast. Notable cast members include Zac Efron as the aggressive Dan Janjigian, Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman and Seth Rogen as script supervisor Sandy who gets many of the “say-what-the-audience-is-thinking” lines.

Sandy’s interior bank sequence marks a key crossroad in this film that turns enjoyable instead of dark with characters turning to opportunistic, ill-intended actions toward Tommy. Turning Tommy into a victim alleviates so much distraction. Audiences’ initial concern eventually melts away after first seeing Tommy’s apartment door open after an important, dramatic life event.

Key cameo roles from Bryan Cranston and Judd Aptow (as themselves) have important functions while Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp are heard in name dropping lines, but not seen (Depp was Tommy Wiseau’s other choice to play him in this film)

Other key roles are played by Casey Wilson, Tom Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bob Odenkirk and Charlyne Yi (Paper Heart) as the costume designer plus Sharon Stone as talent agency executive Iris Burton and Melanie Griffith as an acting coach.

The Verdict

A24 Films’ touching and funny The Disaster Artist comes recommended (*** out of four stars) and is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. Bad filmmaking has never been so good. The ending continuation story logs on the real people are a nice touch as well as the side-by-side comparison sequence with memorable scenes from each film full of uncanny portrayals, which hopefully cements James Franco’s award chances for best actor (he’s already up for a Golden Globe).

Hopefully The Room will accompany the home video version of this engaging film. Stay after the ending credits for an extra scene with the real-life Tommy Wiseau.

A stage play based on The Room‘s original script was performed on June 2011 with both Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero both reprised their parts. Greg and Tommy have made several films together including the credible Best F(r)iends where a homeless man befriends a quirky mortician an unlikely business partnership that eventually leads to paranoia.

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