The Disaster Artist (15)

ONE of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s greatest collaborations, Ed Wood, was a fond, funny, but brutally honest celebration of a man once voted the worst director of all time. Now actor and director James Franco attempts a similar behind-the-scenes homage to talentless ambition, as he chronicles the making of Tommy Wiseau’s infamously bad cult movie, The Room. And like Ed Wood, The Disaster Artist is something of a marvel.

Audiences may take perverse delight in a work "so bad, it’s good", but it’s no easy task to replicate that paradox of the entertainment world. All-out satire could appear too cruel; if there’s no bite, the result could be just as naff as the original. The key, as both Burton and Franco demonstrate, is to find the human story inside the weirdness – then you can have as much fun as you like.

And the result here is very funny indeed, a wonderfully acted, hilarious, bitter-sweet paean to the dreams that make Hollywood tick, and to a friendship that prevailed through one of the more difficult and eccentric film shoots one could ever imagine.

That friendship is between Wiseau (Franco himself) and Greg Sestero (the director’s brother Dave Franco), who meet at an acting class in San Francisco in 1998. The young Sestero is simply a wannabe teenager with no discernible talent; but Wiseau is something else entirely. With his lazy eye and waist-length jet-black dyed hair, he looks like Frankenstein dressed as a New Romantic, while his accent and tortured speech patterns suggest Eastern Europe rather than the New Orleans he professes to come from. For his spot in front of the class, he chooses nothing less than a Brando scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, literally climbing the walls and screaming “Stellaaaa” like a dying animal.

Wiseau makes waves for all the wrong reasons. But he has self-belief in spades, mountains of cash (the source of which remains as mysterious as his own origins) and the ability to inspire his new friend. And so, with the crazy hope of emulating their hero James Dean, the pair set off for LA.

When Tinseltown inevitably fails to respond, Wiseau decides to make his own movie, writing a torrid love-triangle script that he declares is “the greatest drama since Tennessee Williams”. He then proceeds to produce, direct and star in The Room, despite having no idea what he’s doing. Cast, crew and his friend/co-star will all wilt beneath the dual pressure of ego and ineptness.

One can imagine another dimension in which James Franco is a Wiseau figure; he certainly has his own amiable, ever-smiling ambition and ubiquity, with a multi-hyphenate career that has produced decidedly mixed results. But Franco also happens to be talented, and daring. While his direction here is spot on, his performance as Wiseau is remarkable – both solid impersonation and a brilliantly controlled, fascinating depiction of a man-child-monster, whose strangeness and sometimes appalling behaviour are offset by sincere passion for what he’s trying to achieve.

And while we’re left wanting to know more about Wiseau’s background, Franco does give glimmers of past sadness and feelings for Sestero (whose book the film is based on) that may go beyond friendship.

Dave Franco ably carries the straight role as Greg, portraying a naïf who finds himself living a very real comedy of embarrassment. Seth Rogen is his gruffly dependable self as one of The Room’s crew members, and Mad Men’s Alison Brie represents a sort of normality as Greg’s girlfriend, whose presence threatens the bromance and, thereby, the film itself. A number of real-life cameos testify to The Room’s cult cachet.