The Disaster Artist (R)

Comedy 98 min. December 1, 2017
By Bilge Ebiri
Tommy Wiseau has parlayed the catastrophe of his film The Room into a national phenomenon, good-naturedly profiting off the audiences who've come to revel in his artistic misfortune. And now there's a major motion picture, directed by and starring James Franco, casting Wiseau's journey as a sweet tale of friendship and all-American, roll-up-your-sleeves gumption.

The all-American part is crucial. Franco's Wiseau emphasizes the very Americanness of his endeavor -- making a movie on his own (substantial) dime. Wiseau claims to hail from New Orleans, but nobody buys it. He claims to be in his 20s, but nobody buys that, either. He's bought into this idea that to succeed in America you have to be young and confident and the hero of your own story.

Franco portrays Wiseau as a haughty but charismatic weirdo. We first see him shrieking up a storm in a San Francisco acting class, where he meets the shy Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). They move to Los Angeles together. Tommy has money -- lots of it -- and drive. But he has no talent, and seems unable to read anything resembling a social signal.

Franco's movie works best as a portrait of the complicated friendship between Greg and Tommy, and it's an inspired idea to have real-life brothers Dave and James play best friends -- we can sense exasperation and affection beneath every exchange. The Disaster Artist is engaging, funny, at times touching and made with the best of intentions, but I felt unusually anxious for much of it. There's something fundamentally depressing about the spectacle of this man's desperate need to fit in -- and his utter inability to do so.
James Franco James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, Jason Mantzoukas Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber A24

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