James Franco Turns ‘Disaster’ Into Masterpiece


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Former NYU professor James Franco directs and stars in ‘The Disaster Artist’

Daniella Nichinson, Film Editor

Failure. We all know it, we all fear it and we all hope never to experience it. In 2003, a man named Tommy Wiseau released a film he wrote, directed and starred in called “The Room.” It was meant to be his magnum opus, his Tennessee Williams moment of overwhelming drama — but things don’t always go according to plan. Instead, “The Room” was labeled the worst film ever made and the “‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies.” But there was an inherent quality of sheer joy about it that compelled people to watch it over and over again, giving it a now-cult status and landing it in the hands of former NYU professor James Franco.

Franco directs and stars in “The Disaster Artist,” based on the book of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell which chronicles Sestero’s friendship with Wiseau and the making of “The Room.” Franco, who plays Wiseau, seeks to explore the inner heart and sensibilities of Wiseau and unearth the man behind the perplexing figure. “The Disaster Artist” manages to beautifully balance the innate comedy of the story with the underlying tones of melancholy and hopelessness, making for an impeccable study of the desire to succeed.     

With the aid of a few prosthetics, Franco bears an undeniable resemblance to Wiseau. Layer that with Wiseau’s infamous accent and Franco disappears into the character, wholly committing himself to mimic all of Wiseau’s odd mannerisms and traits. Opposite him, as Sestero, is Dave Franco, who grapples with the morality of staying loyal to him or abandoning Wiseau to pursue his own career. The rest of the cast, including Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor and Josh Hutcherson, completes the film’s impressive list of characters which perfectly reproduces the same atmosphere of “The Room.”

In the making of “The Disaster Artist,” Franco and the cast recreated nearly 30 minutes of “The Room.” Their reenactments are so precise that when shown simultaneously with footage from “The Room,” elements as small as Franco’s hand movements and body posture align exactly with Wiseau’s. This level of commitment to the source material mirrors Wiseau’s own fervor and is a testament to Franco’s longing to pay respect to “The Room’s” original creator.

The most unexpected and profound quality of “The Disaster Artist” is its ability to amplify the unseen emotion at the core of “The Room.” For the last 14 years, the cult classic has entertained audiences with its apparent absurdity and lack of cinematic finesse, but what lies beneath its comedic cloak is indeed a tale of passion, despair and betrayal. When Wiseau first came to Los Angeles, he was a man isolated from the world, hoping to live his dream in the City of Angels. Franco captures his wayward spirit and lost soul with a graceful poignancy that showcases his breadth of sensitivity.

In a Q&A following the screening, Dave Franco talked about the uncertainty and challenges of the creative process.

“No one ever sets out to make a bad movie,” Franco said. “I’ve talked to a handful of people in the industry who have seen our movie who say that it makes them sad because it brings them back to when they were first starting or even now when you’re on a set and you’re giving it everything you have and you have these moments of, ‘Is what I’m doing working or is this a total mess?’”

While Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” appeared to be a failure, it was an unusual triumph. “The Disaster Artist” shows us how the worst film of all time is actually Hollywood’s greatest feat.

“The Disaster Artist” opens in New York theaters on Friday, Dec. 1.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 27 print edition.

Email Daniella Nichinson at [email protected]