‘The Disaster Artist’ turns cringeworthy cult flick into hilarious, heartfelt masterpiece

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Justina Mintz / A24 /Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

In 2003, “The Room,” helmed by the enigmatic writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau, released to a brief, two-week stint in mostly empty Los Angeles theaters. But the film’s sparse plot, clunky dialogue and amateurish acting haven’t stopped it from reaching cult status and being celebrated in midnight screenings across the country. “The Room” is notoriously labeled “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies.”

It makes sense then, that “The Disaster Artist” — adapted from the book coauthored by Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s costar and confidante — has aided in giving “The Room” the mainstream attention it calls for. Directed by and starring James Franco in a career-defining performance as Wiseau, “The Disaster Artist” chronicles the origins and making of the “The Room.” Brilliantly acted and wildly entertaining, Franco’s parodic film is a hilarious ode to the epitome of movies that are “so bad they’re good.”

After a series of celebrity tributes — all tinted with heavy sarcasm — to the cinematic legacies of “The Room,” the film opens up to a young and driven, but inexperienced, Sestero (Dave Franco) rehearsing scenes onstage in an acting class. Enter James Franco’s Wiseau, set to demonstrate his performance chops to Sestero and the other young actors with an emotional, over-the-top monologue from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Supplemented with plenty of spontaneous wall-scaling and writhing on the floor, the scene is one of the most memorable character introductions of the year.

The beginning sets the tone for the rest of the film — a display of an unabashed and outrageous passion for cinema. Together, they move to Los Angeles, where Wiseau’s seemingly endless supply of money has provided him with a small apartment. Following a series of fruitless auditions, Wiseau decides to write his own script — a lengthy, scattered romance/thriller/drama entitled “The Room” — and takes it on as his cinematic passion project, assembling a cast and crew and developing it to its eventual big-screen release.

As the ambiguous creative architect at the heart of “The Disaster Artist,” Wiseau is portrayed both parodically and empathetically throughout the film, in a devoted performance by James Franco. From his distinct appearance and unplaceable accent to his many particular ticks on the set of his film, James Franco embodies Wiseau with the utmost bravado, never shying away from a loud and exaggerated characterization of the role — while maintaining a raw, emotional undercurrent that shines through in the film’s moving moments.

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Justina Mintz/A24/Courtesy

It’s easily Franco’s most bizarre — and quite possibly, his strongest — performance to date.

Of course, that’s not to say he has the only solid performance. As Sestero, Dave Franco plays the perfect counterpart to Wiseau’s strangeness, demonstrated primarily through his sheer normalcy. When on set, Sestero is consistently honest and logical, calling out Wiseau’s outlandish and often excessively controlling behavior when need be. Yet, he still finds inspiration in and deeply respects Wiseau’s connection to his work, and he remains as moral support for Wiseau throughout the shoot.

The tense dynamic between the Franco brothers as Wiseau and Sestero is fascinating to experience, not only due to the choice casting, but because of the mix of sentiments — obsession, jealousy, love, caring — that forms their bond and speaks volumes about the artist’s relationship with their own artwork. It’s this dynamic that takes a mostly comedic movie-about-a-movie and adds an additional layer of complexity that becomes genuine, thought-provoking and affecting.

Outside of its central duo, “The Disaster Artist” is filled with plenty of familiar faces, many from the Franco cinematic cohort — with Seth Rogen as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, to Alison Brie as Sestero’s girlfriend Amber — who successfully contribute to the scenes detailing production and those surrounding Wiseau and Sestero’s personal lives. The fact that Hollywood A-listers are featured so prominently in a movie about struggling filmmakers adds to the self-parodying nature of “The Disaster Artist.”

With a perfect balance of heart and hilarity, a tight script and fantastic performances, “The Disaster Artist” succeeds in recreating the madness that went into the making of Wiseau’s cult classic. Only this time around, the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies is celebrated in a film that’s so very, very good.

Anagha Komaragiri covers film. Contact her at [email protected].