Starring James Franco. Rated 14A
As with Ed Wood, its nearest cinematic neighbour, you don’t need to have seen its subject’s work to get the surprisingly sweet-toned humour that comes mostly at a pseudo-auteur’s expense.
Unlike Wood, who fancied himself a cinephile with an actual career (who can forget the Dadaistic demo derby called Plan 9 From Outer Space?), Tommy Wiseau has only made one movie: The Room. It’s not the dark sociological study that launched little Jacob Tremblay’s career but an extreme-vanity project for the mysteriously wealthy Wiseau (director James Franco here), who financed the 2003 debacle himself.
The lank-haired oddball peopled his incomprehensible story with low-grade beginners, led by his new best friend, Greg Sestero, played by Dave Franco with just the right amount of reverent awe. (The Franco brothers are only three years apart in age, but appear to be almost two decades.) Greg’s a good-looking suburbanite too shy to really make the leap into acting. So he’s knocked out by Tommy’s fearless take on A Streetcar Named Desire, which has him literally climbing the scenery in a class led by Melanie Griffith (who has somehow morphed into Ivana Trump).
Turns out fearlessness is the older guy’s only true talent. Saddled with a weird, vampirical visage and a heavy eastern European accent he refuses to acknowledge, Tommy pretends to know a little bit about everything, with no depth suggested. Still, he somehow has an extra apartment in L.A., and can let Greg stay there for free.
What follows their move is an exceptionally amusing montage of show-biz fits and starts, with Judd Apatow, playing an unnamed big-shot producer, delivering the coup de grâce to Tommy’s dreams of being the next Brando. When Greg suggests that they simply make their own movie, Tommy actually makes it happen—proving, in the end, that talent and hard work don’t necessarily have that much to do with each other. (This is where Seth Rogen steps in, as an assistant director who voices the WTF? factor on behalf of the crew, and the audience.)
The Disaster Artist’s emotional core comes from the codependent relationship between the two leads, and its humour, although self-evident, is underlined through side-by-side shots under the credits. The lasting message is really about living your chutzpah to the fullest. “After today,” says the fictional Tommy during a re-creation of the real movie’s first day of shooting, “none of ourselves will be same!” Not beautifully said. But close enough!