The Disaster Artist review – Franco’s ‘worst film ever’ homage has room for improvement
The Disaster Artist review – Franco’s ‘worst film ever’ homage has room for improvement. The hugely prolific actor and film-maker James Franco started his career on TV’s Freaks and Geeks and has also directed adaptations of Faulkner and Steinbeck. Now he combines his funny and serious sides in a ratio of about four to one in this entertaining, if weirdly incurious and incomplete true-life story. Tommy Wiseau was a bizarre man of indeterminate age and background who became a cult figure in Los Angeles in 2003 for The Room – a toe-curlingly awful film he financed, directed, wrote and starred in. He also paid for cinema hire, a lavish premiere and a prominent billboard. Connoisseurs of irony and awfulness were intrigued: terrible dialogue, car-crash emoting, leaden editing, ridiculous sets. The movie gradually took on a Rocky Horror life of its own, and came to Britain on a kind of so-bad-it’s-the-best-ever tour in 2009. Underemployed masochists can watch it on YouTube.
Franco himself plays Tommy, the bizarre, long-haired dude with the weird accent and a lot of money. Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, the wide-eyed, unemployed actor Tommy persuades to come to LA with him and be in the film; The Disaster Artist is adapted from Sestero’s 2013 memoir of acting in his anti-masterpiece. Seth Rogen plays the long-suffering script supervisor, and there are many big-name stars coyly cast in small roles, winners whose presence underlines the comedy of loserdom.
Franco is often very funny as Tommy, the crazy guy who we first see trying out for theatre productions in San Francisco, baffling directors with his wordless primal-scream improv spectaculars. Poor Greg is dazzled by Tommy’s pure life force and accepts his invitation to accompany him to LA to make it in the movies and live with him in a modest apartment that Tommy appears to own. Getting nowhere as an actor, Tommy resolves to make his own film. The rest is history – and tragicomedy.
So-bad-it’s-good is an accepted genre. I first came across it with Kenny Everett’s Bottom-30 hit parade of pop horror on Capital Radio in the 70s, and the accepted approach is that we forgive ourselves for our malice in laughing at these people by coming to celebrate them affectionately as modern-day Quixotes. Johnny Depp played hopeless B-movie auteur Ed Wood Jr as a never-say-die idealist who rescued Bela Lugosi from unemployment; Meryl Streep gave life to the deluded classical singer, Florence Foster Jenkins, who was rich enough to pay people to listen to her off-key warbling. In real life, Jerry Lewis bankrolled his own sentimental Nazi comedy The Day the Clown Cried, but no one had the chance to mock and then forgive that because it was withdrawn from view. In fiction of course there is the musical Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks’s comedy The Producers, the tax-cheat flop that becomes a hit.
Hollywood dreamers … Sharon Stone and Dave Franco. Photograph: Allstar/New Line Cinema
But wait. Where was Tommy’s money coming from? And where, come to that, was he from? Those squeamish about spoilers or financial reality had better look away now, because the film never answers these questions. There are rumours, only hinted at here, that Tommy hails from Poland or Romania. But the funding for his film? Dodgy dealings? Money laundering? Or is he just that most banal of things, a rich kid who wanted to be a supercool movie star? These important facts are withheld from the audience, and it gave me the uncomfortable feeling that we are still being played, just a bit.