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“The Disaster Artist” a heartfelt, hilarious and poignant film

Jeff Boudreaux, Contributer

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How ironic is it that “The Room” (2003), a movie some consider as the worst of all time, should spawn one of the year’s best films 14 years later? Alas, the hilarious, poignant and aptly titled “The Disaster Artist” isn’t only about the making of “The Room.” It also spotlights two unknown actors whom fate unites, one struggling (Dave Franco portraying Greg Sestero, on whose book this film is based) and one just as unsuccessful, but oddly with no monetary worries whatsoever — the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Director/star James Franco manages to achieve two things with this labor of love: he ultimately succeeds where Tommy Wiseau failed, but also he helps propagate the notion that Wiseau never actually failed at all. This film brings renewed interest to “The Room,” a film which already enjoys a unique cult status celebrating its historic awfulness.

 

The film opens in 1998 San Francisco, where a socially awkward acting student named Greg Sestero meets a comparatively godlike stage presence known as Tommy Wiseau. The two become fast friends and roommates before making their way to Los Angeles — the land of opportunity. Continual rejection does not equal shattered dreams, as Wiseau decides to self-fund his own movie and cast Sestero as the co-lead. To say that Wiseau’s envisioned project turns out to be the Murphy’s law of independent productions is the understatement of the year. Obscenely over-budget, with its cast and crew ready to mutiny at any minute, the supposed drama “The Room” was worked to completion while defying genre placement.

 

There’s definite chemistry between these two real-life brothers, who clearly enjoyed headlining a movie together. James Franco is spellbinding as Tommy Wiseau. So real is his characterization, I managed to forget I was watching James Franco. If an actor portraying another actor ever warranted an Oscar nomination, this would be the performance. Less effective is his brother’s Sestero. Dave Franco doesn’t look like the guy, he doesn’t talk like him, and he sports a really awful-looking fake beard during the filming of the movie-within-a-movie. Still, I’d have to admit that the younger Franco gives an adequate performance, if Greg Sestero was indeed anxious to the point of debilitation. Surprisingly, Dave Franco receives top billing when the credits roll, but make no mistake, this is clearly the elder Franco’s movie and should be welcomed as such.

 

Augmenting the behind-the-scenes familial theme is the casting of Dave Franco’s real-life wife, Alison Brie, as his onscreen girlfriend Amber, whose presence in Sestero’s life becomes a source of contention between the two pals. And being an ensemble Franco film (a la “This is the End”), many of his Hollywood friends are also featured, including Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. Rogen is particularly effective as Sandy Schklair, the stoic script-supervisor-turned-ersatz-director of “The Room.” He’s funny without going over the top, and gives one of his best performances since 2015’s “Steve Jobs.” A particularly funny scene has Schklair going to cash his first paycheck and being surprised when the check doesn’t bounce.

 

In another scene worth mentioning, Wiseau accosts a Hollywood producer (Apatow) inside a posh restaurant for an impromptu — and highly unwelcome — forced audition. Apatow tells Wiseau his chances amount to “never in a million years,” to which he replies, “But after that?” Yes, this makes for a very humorous scene, but are we really expected to believe that Wiseau is that stupid? Actually, I’d rather you not answer! Instead, stick around after the credits for a terrific scene of the real Wiseau coming face-to-face with an in-character Franco.

 

As anyone who is familiar with Tommy Wiseau can tell you: the shrouded details of his life have sparked considerable debate. He claims to hail from New Orleans, but his Eastern European accent hints otherwise. He’s also much older than he says he is, with reports of his being born in 1955. No one seems to know where this amateur auteur obtained a reported $6 million to self-fund his disasterpiece, and his decision to buy film equipment rather than lease it certainly wasn’t the wisest choice for someone who honestly intended to turn a profit. Sadly, “The Room” only opened in one theater in Los Angeles for a two-week run, in an absurd attempt to qualify for the 2004 Academy Awards. However, in a true stroke of vicarious justice, Wiseau’s dream may be finally realized in “The Disaster Artist,” a heartfelt film which certainly deserves mention at next year’s ceremony.

 

* * * ½  — Three-and-a-half out of four stars

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“The Disaster Artist” a heartfelt, hilarious and poignant film