By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

Simplistic in tone and intent, one of the new films from the mind-bogglingly prolific James Franco ends up being a clumsy love letter to bad film-making, glorifying a Hollywood wannabe who had more money than talent.

The film centres on the strange relationship that develops between aspiring ‘actors’ Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (brother James), who are attending the same acting class. Greg is entranced by Wiseau’s interpretation of Brando’s ‘Stella’ scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, even though their teacher and fellow future thespians giggle in bewilderment at his patently awful performance.

Asking the outcast student if they can work together, Greg’s sincere interest takes Wiseau by surprise, and simply because of this befriends the young man quickly, while trying to maintain an air of cool aloofness. It isn’t long before the duo decide to move to Los Angeles together, much to the disdain of Greg’s mother (Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally), staying at a decent apartment Wiseau has owned for years. Hitting the pavement to hopefully grab that chance at stardom, agents and interviewees couldn’t see two more different people standing before them; Greg a blonde, wholesome-looking all-American, while Tommy comes across as some shadowy, thick-accented creature from Eastern Europe, even though he continually tries to convince those around him that he is from New Orleans.

Greg does secure an agent (a brief appearance by Sharon Stone), but Tommy is unsuccessful, and retreats from the process as anyone who does want to hire him wants to do so as a villain. Seeing his friend falling into a state of depression, Greg eventually encourages Tommy to write his own project, and soon after a script is laid in front of him. The Room is about to be born.

Tommy finances the entire project, from the purchase of camera equipment, to securing studio space, to hiring an eclectic cast and crew who have no idea what is in store for them, including Sandy (Seth Rogan), Juliette (Ari Graynor), Philip (Josh Hutcherson), Dan (Zac Efron), and Carolyn (Jacki Weaver). Greg, along with his new colleagues, continue to wonder where Tommy is getting the money from, as the ill-fated production now has a multi-million dollar budget.

The Disaster Artist, going by the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Pink Panther 2, The Fault in our Stars), seemingly celebrates the cinematic incompetence on display. Everything is treated as a big joke, but then quite astoundingly tries to justify the end result during its misfired finale, assuming that laughing at a terrible film is the same as being swept away by a great one. This is quite a jaw-dropping point of view, one that would see more wannabe film-makers coming out of the woodwork, thinking it will be far easier to make a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ movie than to actually strive towards something that people will admire and remember for all the right reasons. To picture an entire generation of Michael Bays is a scary thought indeed.

This is compared to Tim Burton’s infinitely more thoughtful Ed Wood (1994), which not only detailed the growing friendship between a group of similarly untalented artists who have been shunned by a ruthless industry, but also Wood’s endearing affection for, and protection of, Bela Lugosi, who had been unceremoniously discarded once his star had fallen. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s (The People vs Larry Flynt) intelligent script focused on the banding together of these lonely characters through a number of now-infamous film endeavours, and while they and Burton never purport their efforts as being any good, they never treat their subjects in a dismissive or condescending manner.

Characters are thumbnail sketches at best, with so many supporting players coming and going with frustrating suddenness (veteran Aussie actor Weaver just appears from nowhere, and is then wasted), while Wiseau himself is never explored in any genuinely interesting way. This undercuts what would have been a fascinating exploration into the worst kind of Hollywood film-making, showing why real auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, and John Carpenter deservedly rise above the crowd. A fleeting romance between Greg and Amber (Alison Brie, who is as under-used here as she was in The Post) is ditched quickly, and seems to solely exist so there can be a totally unnecessary cameo by Bryan Cranston.

James Franco’s performance as Tommy comes across as a SNL caricature brought to the big screen. Never attempting to give this enigmatic person any shade or nuance, he comes across more as the long lost cousin of the Festrunk brothers (famously played by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd on the long-running show) than an actual human being. Franco is always playing Wiseau for laughs, so any dramatic point that could be made about him and the industry is destroyed. Franco’s superficial direction amplifies this empty tone.

I have never seen The Room, which thanks to its notoriety has not only recouped its sizeable budget, but has distressingly made a profit (Wiseau has even gone on to make another feature film), all thanks to packed midnight screenings where patrons throw insults and spoons at the abomination showing on screen. When you see all the outstanding films from right around the world that have dazzled, involved, and entertained, but have been unable to pick up a proper distribution deal or make any money at the box-office, it makes it hard to look upon both this and its source with any kind of throwaway fondness, as championing this kind of ineptitude disheartens rather than delights. However, do stay right through the end credits, as you’ll encounter the one amusing moment in the whole film.

Rating: 2/5

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