TIFF Review: James Franco’s ‘The Disaster Artist’ Is a Rousing Success

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After receiving his first Oscar nomination for “127 Hours”, James Franco hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations of that honor. Though he remained incredibly prolific and acted in a few hits, his place on the A-list became precarious. Most noticeably, he made a foray into directing, which resulted in a slew of underwhelming indie experiments that almost became a running joke for their consistent inclusion at major film festivals.

But now, the joke’s on us. In a stroke of genius, James Franco has delivered a winning film ironically based on an infamous case of underachievement. Franco directs and stars in “The Disaster Artist“, based on a book that details the backstory and making of “The Room,” commonly known as “The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.” And with it, he has delivered perhaps his most personal film to date.

Indeed, there are a number of metatextual elements in “The Disaster Artist” that work in its favor. Mainly, the plot follows a pair of brotherly best friends named Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sistero – played by James Franco and his real brother Dave Franco – who met at their San Francisco acting class. Both are struggling to find jobs, unwittingly due to their very limited talent. Undeterred, the duo decides to keep the dream alive by heading to Los Angeles, where they expect to find more opportunities. Unsurprisingly, they quickly learn that Los Angeles is even more cutthroat. But Greg has an epiphany one day. With Tommy’s mysteriously unlimited bank account, they can make their own movie. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The titular “disaster” that follows needs no explanation for those who’ve seen “The Room”, as it largely recreates its myriad of bad scenes (with the help of an amazing ensemble including several delightful cameos). For those who haven’t seen it, the film is arguably an essential companion piece. Indeed, “The Disaster Artist” is an astonishingly accurate homage that would be greater appreciated with prior knowledge of its reference material.

Still, the B-movie hilarity provides abundant entertainment for those who go in blind. In particular, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber‘s screenplay is especially good at highlighting why the filmmaking in “The Room” is so bad. From the totally unnecessary green screen to the appalling misogyny, it’s all there in cringe-worthy detail.

And the script goes even further by exploring Tommy Wiseau’s delusions of grandeur. On that note, James Franco’s remarkable work behind and in front of the camera comes into play. Unlike Wiseau, Franco is by no means a bad actor. As such, his expert mimicry of Wiseau’s deadpan way of speaking produces a truly special performance. With his strange “New Orleans” accent, Franco nails this persona that was essentially a caricature in real life.

Indeed “The Disaster Artist” is as much about the making of “The Room” as it is about Tommy Wiseau. And in that regard, the screenplay is admittedly less impressive. Wiseau’s life story is the same sentimental underdog narrative we’ve seen countless times before.

Thankfully, the biopic clichés are saved by Dave Franco’s utterly sincere work as Greg. Their friendship is so convincing and warm that you can’t help but be moved by it. Indeed, I dare you not to be entertained and touched by “The Disaster Artist”. It’s a triumphant story of friendship and a testament to the phrase “go big or go home.”

“The Disaster Artist” opens in select theaters December 1.

GRADE: (★★★)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “THE DISASTER ARTIST” ranks!

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions!

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
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