This article is supported by James Franco’s new movie The Disaster Artist, now showing in selected cinemas and Australia wide on December 7.. Ahead of its release Kate Jinx, film writer and director of programming at Golden Age Cinema, writes about Franco's latest role.
Around the world, people routinely come together in small dark spaces to revel in the badness of 2003 film The Room. Some audience members wear tuxedos, some throw footballs and plastic spoons. They recite mono-tonal greetings in unison: “Oh hi Mark” and “Oh hi doggy” as the film plays. This dismal failure turned cult epic is at the enthusiastic, weird heart of James Franco’s new meta-masterpiece, The Disaster Artist.
Based on actor Greg Sesteros’ memoir of his time spent working on what’s commonly known as the worst movie ever made, The Disaster Artist tracks the rise and fall—and now, thanks to this film, another rise—of The Room’s Tommy Wiseau, a real man of an uncertain age who poured six million dollars of his own mysteriously accumulated money into making his Hollywood dreams come (kind of) true. The Disaster Artist is not so much about Wiseau’s idiosyncratic film, but the universe that Wiseau created for himself and his friend-slash-soulmate Sestero, and the cast and crew who couldn’t have had a clue about what they were signing themselves up for.
As Wiseau would say, “Welcome to Tommy’s world”.
Franco directs and normally I’d say ‘stars as’ Wiseau, but ‘commits’ is probably a better word for it. If you thought his grilled and cornrowed Alien in Harmony Korine’s bonkers, brilliant Spring Breakers was intense, prep yourself. For this role, Franco spent two hours daily being transformed by a facial prosethetic make-up artist into Wiseau's likeness. Long black hair, Seinfeldian puffy shirts, cleft chin, and an accent that hints more at Eastern Europe than his forthright insistence of “New Orleans, the Bayou” when asked where he’s from, Franco fully inhabits Wiseau’s weirdly charismatic energy.
Known for immersing himself in research while preparing for a role—the guy visited Paul Feig’s high school and tracked down one of his teachers to get the vibe for his first major role as bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold Daniel Desario in Freaks & Geeks—Franco went so far as to direct The Disaster Artist in character as Wiseau. Frequent collaborator Seth Rogan, who produced the film and appears as a long-suffering script supervisor, described this particular curio to an audience at SXSW as “exactly the weirdest thing you have heard about.”
As the meme goes, we all have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé, but do we have the same clutch as James Franco? Is he bound to the tick-tock of the mere mortal clock or has he found some kind of loophole in the space-time continuum? From attending multiple grad programs to publishing poetry and fiction (his book of short stories was adapted by Gia Coppola in 2015’s Palo Alto, in which he also co-starred), to contributing to VICE, Franco’s nothing if not prolific.
Not all of his experiments work but for the most part the intent is enough to be compelling. Take for example Interior Leather Bar, a collaborative film with Travis Mathews, about the making of the infamous 40 minutes of “lost” explicit gay sex footage from William Friedkin’s controversial 1980 film Cruising, or a multi-episode arc on a US soap General Hospital which he later deemed ‘performance art’.
The meta gets better in The Disaster Artist, with Franco’s real brother Dave starring opposite him—their first time working together—as Sestero, a young hunk with frosted tips and a Hollywood hunger so bad you ache when he really throws himself into it. In turn, Dave’s real-life wife Alison Brie plays Sestero’s girlfriend, and Bryan Cranston turns up as… Bryan Cranston.
Stay long enough after the credits and the real Wiseau touches down too. There’s a moment in the film where Franco (as Wiseau) recites one of The Room’s most infamous lines, the emotional but ultimately flat cry of “you’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”—a partially stolen quote from James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, an actor beloved by the real Greg Sestero, the real Tommy Wiseau, and the real James Franco, who portrayed him in the 2001 TV biopic James Dean. Still with me?
The Disaster Artist may well be a multi-layer cake of references and footnotes, but it steers clear of becoming an ouroboros of Franco-fuckery. It’s a film about someone so hell-bent on making something that they weren’t able to see past their own vision, or their own absence of conventional talent. It’s a deeply funny film, and while many laughs do come from Wiseau’s incoherence, he’s not the butt of the joke.
Wiseau’s potentially Polish accent and constant desire for things to be “American” brought to mind Andy Warhol, but let’s not get carried away. The Room is still a bad movie. The Disaster Artist is, however, quite the opposite—and an unexpected but serious Oscars contender.
You don’t need to be a ‘Roomie’ by any stretch to be pulled into The Disaster Artist’s swirling galaxies of sincerity, irony, and he’s-gotta-have-it Hollywood dreams—but it will suck you into a black Wikihole of epic proportions after you leave the cinema. Embrace it. Revel in it. Throw a spoon.
You can follow Kate Jinx on Twitter.
This article is supported by James Franco’s new movie The Disaster Artist, now showing in selected cinemas and Australia wide on December 7.