"The Disaster Artist" Transposes Incredible True Story Into Generic Buddy Comedy

Thank you, honey. This is a beautiful party! You invited all my friends. Good thinking!

Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film-turned-cult phenomenon “The Room” remains a wondrous trip into the mind of a self-made actor, writer, and director with zero capacity for acting, writing, or directing. It defies even the typified path to bad movie nirvana; instead of rising from low art to high art as it plays, the film functions as both for its entirety, sustaining the same deliriously berserk note that no feature film ever has.

“The Room” actor Greg Sestero’s 2012 memoir The Disaster Artist – the basis for actor and director James Franco’s film of the same name – is a madly compelling companion piece, detailing Tommy and Greg’s unlikely friendship and ensuing professional partnership. This bond between a mysteriously wealthy middle-aged European immigrant and a young aspiring model and actor is the kind of impossible non-fiction that couldn’t be dreamed of. Only lived through. In California.

But Sestero’s book (co-written by journalist Tom Bissell) is more than an extension of Wiseau’s movie’s funny bone, more than a collection of amazing real-life punchlines. It’s a restless beating heart that turns the already unlikely melodrama of “The Room” into a weirdly touching behind-the-scenes drama.

Franco’s film does justice to neither.

The “Pineapple Express” star’s portrayal of Wiseau is amusing enough, an enthusiastic take on the auteur’s thick accent, alien speech patterns, and wild gesticulating. Franco the actor earns the audience’s smiles. But Franco the director’s movie is a sorry adaptation of Sestero’s text. Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber’s screenplay condenses the complicated Wiseau-Sestero relationship into a broad “two friends take on Hollywood” narrative, robbing the story of so many of its eccentricities. Franco’s generic direction is the hot fudge on top of this “Ed Wood” wannabe sundae, beginning with a dreadful documentary-like talking heads prologue and devolving from there.

His supporting cast does him no favors.

James’ younger brother Dave Franco (“Nerve”) is a miserable fit for Sestero, lacking both the character’s youth and model-good looks. More importantly, all the prosthetics in the world can’t hide that James and Dave are siblings, further undermining the odd couple-ness of Tommy and Greg. When it comes time for them to play off each other as ‘Johnny’ and ‘Mark’ respectively in Tommy’s movie, James’ method acting (he even directed the film in character) has all but swallowed up the pedestrian performance of his kid brother.

The rest of the cast – Seth Rogen as “The Room” script supervisor Sandy Schklair, Ari Graynor as ‘Lisa’ actress Juliette Danielle, Alison Brie as Greg’s girlfriend Amber – are realized as aggressively one-dimensional supporting players; mere subjects of Tommy’s misplaced ire instead of the real working professionals mired in disbelief that they were. The script explores virtually none of the production wrinkles recalled in Sestero’s book, and those that are (like Wiseau inexplicably purchasing millions of dollars worth of camera equipment instead of renting it) are relayed with the wit of a Wikipedia entry.

Wiseau’s knock-off clothing line – perhaps the source of his wealth – Street Fashions isn’t mentioned, only seen in passing in the form of a sign. The moving, reliably bizarre story of his immigration to the United States is MIA. Greg’s fascinating “rise” from fledgling thespian to “Patch Adams” extra, all leading to his reluctant acceptance of a co-starring role in “The Room” (the symbolic death of his Hollywood dreams), is scarcely touched upon. And the beautiful symmetry of his book, of Tommy’s perfectly lonely life, is nowhere to be found.

Any of these individual missing puzzle pieces might not have fit in a feature film – a miniseries perhaps? – but together their absence paints a portrait of a movie that seriously misses the point. To recreate the making of “The Room” isn’t enough, although the scene comparisons that accompany the end credits are impressive. Ironically, to make The Disaster Artist into a film without understanding why it works is a cinematic tragedy almost worthy of Tommy Wiseau. But not quite. The result is an endlessly, hopelessly surface level comedy that should have been so much more. Stay for a post-credits scene that’s better than anything in the film proper.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: December 1, 2017 (Limited)
Studio: A24
Director: James Franco
Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Nathan Fielder, Hannibal Buress, Alison Brie
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)