Despite a deep desire to become a professional actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) struggles to emote on stage and finds that he can't free himself of his own inhibitions. All that changes when he meets the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), who decides on a whim to write and direct his own film which he and Sestero will star in...
Let's get the main points out of the way before we go any further with this. No, you don't explicitly need to have seen The Room in order to enjoy The Disaster Artist, but it certainly adds to the overall flavour of it. Yes, Dave Franco's beard looks ridiculous and so does James Franco's accent and facial ticks. Yes, there are some cameos by some famous people, including Judd Apatow, Sharon Stone, and a few others. No, it doesn't explain any of the urban myths around The Room. If anything, The Disaster Artist uses these urban myths and the troubled production to examine something else entirely - specifically, creative freedom and the nature of what you are perceived versus who you are.
From the opening scenes, Dave Franco's portrayal of Greg Sestero feels a lot more vulnerable and raw than what you'd expect. He struggles with acting, connecting with emotion, and comes across so desperate and sincere that you almost feel sorry for what follows. It's not to say that there isn't comedy to be gleaned from his performance; it's more that he's the straight man to the elder Franco's unwitting comedy act. The two meet early on in the film, and James Franco's Tommy Wiseau is introduced by way of an acting class where he appears from the shadows and gives a deranged performance of A Streetcar Named Desire's infamous Stella scene. It's not long before he and Sestero move to Hollywood on a whim and starting trying out for auditions, often with ridiculous results.
The central premise of the film only kicks into action in the second act of the film, and introduces Seth Rogen as a dumbfounded script supervisor, Hannibal Buress and Jason Mantzoukas as the equally bewildered studio owners who happily sell them the equipment, and the actors that include Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver in various roles. By and large, the comedy works as you'd expect - everyone's baffled by Wiseau's antics, nobody knows why he's built his own toilet in the studio or demands that they shoot on film AND digital, and all the actors are universally terrible. It's easy stuff, but Franco's performance as Wiseau gives it an edge that makes it equally hilarious and sympathetic.
Franco plays him one part tortured genius (as he sees himself), one part buffoon ala David Brent; hopelessly earnest and surrounded by sniggering colleagues who make fun of his accent, his belts and the like. At the same time, he drives himself into the wall with people and it's up to Sestero to smooth him out. The dynamic works, and the natural bond between the two actors gives the film a real charm. Franco directs with a light touch and the film zips right along, never lingering too long on any one set-up or scene, like most comedies seem to do nowadays. There's a few moments in the film that echo Wiseau and Sistero's hopefulness, particularly when Jacki Weaver's character chats to her colleagues about why she continues to act when her career has passed her by. It's in these scenes that The Disaster Artist outshines the film it's investigating, and smartly lets the comedy come through by the sheer weirdness of it all.
While it may not be perfect in parts, and it does have a hokey finish to it, The Disaster Artist is the best film that could possibly be made about the worst film imaginable.