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The Disaster Artist Is a Tribute to Everyone's Weirdest Friend (AFI Fest Review)

By Luke Y. Thompson

The Disaster Artist Is a Tribute to Everyone's Weirdest Friend (AFI Fest Review)

We've all had one, at some stage in our lives. The person you know as a friend, but is so strange -- and at times, insufferable -- that none of your other buddies can stand him or her. Yes, they're weird, but they did you a solid at some point, and you kinda get them, even as you totally get why your girlfriend and coworkers can't stand being around them. Perhaps said friend is incomprehensible, delusional, or just plain socially inept. In the case of The Room director Tommy Wiseau, he is all that and more, yet The Disaster Artist, as a movie even more so than the book, is a tribute to actor Greg "Sestosterone" Sestero's friendship with the bizarre auteur, and a love letter as much to unlikely pals as to a beloved bad movie.

(Note: If you're unfamiliar with Tommy Wiseau or The Room, the 16-second video below is all you need to get a taste)

Sestero, still best known as Mark from The Room, is played here by Dave Franco in a fake beard that looks fashioned from veterinary floor sweepings and rubber cement, presumably because Henry Cavill-style face CGI wasn't available on this budget. The younger Franco is, as usual, sweetly charming, struggling with acting as something he (as Sestero) can't crack until he sees Wiseau (James Franco) absolutely go for it with a berserk, over-the-top staged reading that inspires him to want to be brave too. That Wiseau is not quite what you'd call a master thespian is beside the point -- he's a fearless one, and the kind of wingman Sestero has been needing. When it turns out that, as a bonus, Wiseau is mysteriously wealthy, Sestero agrees to move with him to Los Angeles and make a go of it as an actor.

Sestero experiences minor successes, but Wiseau, with his inability to lose his weird accent or moderate his performance, goes nowhere, so between them, the two hatch a plot to make their own movie. It will, of course, become the most chaotically made and beloved-for-the-wrong-reasons cult hit that still plays theaters at midnight to throngs of spoon-throwing, party popper blasting devotees.

The best testament to the performances of the brothers Franco is that you forget they are siblings, which is essential for the slight homoerotic undercurrent to their bond seen when Wiseau throws a tantrum about Sestero's girlfriend. There's little that good actors like more than playing bad actors, but this is no mere riff; as director and lead, James Franco manages the difficult feat of laughing with AND at The Room and its makers, which is of course part of that movie's enduring appeal. In his hands, Wiseau's desire to be a success and failure to get there in conventional terms is completely relatable, while his seeming lack of even basic understanding how human beings usually interact is a great source of humor.

While the book ends almost exactly like Ed Wood, with the lights going down as The Room is about to screen for the first time, Franco wisely extends the story and compresses the timeline to include Wiseau's ex post-facto justification that he always intended his film to be a comedy. Other key items omitted from the source material include Sestero's half-speculated chapter on Wiseau's boyhood -- Franco finds it funnier to emphasize that nobody knows where Wiseau's from or where he gets his money than mention any informed hypotheses -- and the Tommy technique for gate-crashing fancy restaurants and ordering a cup of hot water (they eat mostly in diners in the movie, presumably because the location permits were cheaper).

Fans of The Room are the primary target audience, and will surely appreciate all the extra scenes Franco recreated from it that run over the end credits (the post-credits scene, by the way, is better than anything Marvel has ever done and you must not miss it!). Among the other classic cast members, Ari Graynor shines as the sweetly naive Juliette Danielle/Lisa, and Zac Efron is unrecognizable until the last scene as the terrifying Dan Janjigian/Chris-R. Fans of Mike, Michelle, or Peter don't get much to work with, but there'll surely be more on Blu-ray, and Jacki Weaver steals one solid scene as Carolyn Minnott/Claudette.

But people who've never seen The Room are loving The Disaster Artist too, at least in our informal surveys. It helps, of course, to know how movies generally are made so you can see just how much of what could go wrong did. In the end, however, it's not really about that -- it's about your weird friend finally becoming a guy people appreciate, even if not in the way he intended, and even if he doesn't necessarily have the kind of underdog personality the movies have conditioned you to cheer for. As a tagline for The Room once famously, falsely promised, The Disaster Artist burns with the passion of Tennessee Williams. As the subsequent tagline more honestly stated, experience this new black comedy; it's a riot.

Images: A24