The Disaster Artist

(L-R) Dave and James Franco as Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau in A24’s THE DISASTER ARTIST. Photo by Justina Mintz.

In 2003, almost a decade after I discovered ZARKORR: THE INVADER at a local video rental on the University of Minnesota campus, an unknown named Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, financed, starred in and produced a film so inexplicably stupid it failed its way to cult status.

Directed by and starring James Franco as Wiseau, THE DISASTER ARTIST tells the story of the aspiring actor/filmmaker—an eccentric with a vaguely Eastern European accent and seemingly bottomless pit of finances, the source of which is unclear yet rumored to be a sub-TJ MAXX clothing line, Street Fashions USA.

The film re-creates, as best as possible, the backstory and working conditions of the bizarre melodrama, THE ROOM, from the point of view of Wiseau’s acrid relationship with aspiring actor, Greg Sestero (Franco’s brother Dave).  Wiseau’s third-rate, love triangle flick ran up $6 million, mostly due to his abject ignorance of industry best practices—knowing the difference between leases and capital expenditures would have been a nice start.  Entire rooftop sets are created in Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities with no shortage of rooftop terraces.

As the production costs spiral out of control, so too does Wiseau’s strained relationship with Sestero who admires Tommy’s off-the-wall passion at the cost of his own bona-fide television opportunity alongside Bryan Cranston (playing himself in a cameo).

While THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t mince words about Wiseau’s harassment of cast and crew, it does underhandedly speak to a kind of geek subculture that appropriates kitsch value in all the wrong places.  It’s difficult to cheer on Wiseau as an anti-hero when it’s not clear exactly what, other than a vehicle for his own narcissism, he was championing.

In one instance, Wiseau’s inability to get through a single line reading becomes intolerable to a point where the director seems ready to walk.  This would be funnier for me if I hadn’t watched ten straight hours of the real thing on a location shoot, resulting in an actor’s trip to the ER and a day’s worth ($250,000) in lost productivity.

One feels no unease knowing that no humans were harmed during the filming of the Funny or Die sketch “Acting With James Franco“, which might as well have been James’ inspiration for taking on this project.  But THE DISASTER ARTIST, driven mostly by a near shot-for-shot re-creation of THE ROOM (excerpts shown side-by-side in the end credits), was already beaten to the punch before THE ROOM was ever a thing.  In 1999, Steve Martin and Frank Oz collaborated on BOWFINGER—about an equally hard-luck gang of Hollywood wanna-bes.  After perfecting his craft through two decades of stand-up, SNL and cinema, Martin reportedly spent fifteen years developing and two months writing that script.

It shows.