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'Disaster Artist' colors a tender portrait of fame-chasing

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Preston Barta

Oh hi, Oscar!

Rated R, 103 minutes.
Opens Friday.
4 of 5 stars

James Franco's stints as a director always leave me a bit skeptical. He's a strange dude. He may be a scholar with 50 different degrees (not really) and have a fancy for finger paintings, but he has done some questionably outlandish movies. 

With The Disaster Artist, Franco steps away from his usual blink-and-you'll-miss-it film adaptations of acclaimed novels (As I Lay Dying, The Sound of Fury) to make a movie about the making of another one — and it just so happens to be the best decision he's made.
Based on Greg Sestero's co-authored book of the same name, The Disaster Artist is an autobiographical take on the peculiar rise to fame for Sestero and Tommy Wiseau, and their legendarily awful 2003 movie The Room (not to be confused with Room, starring Brie Larson).

It begins with Greg (Dave Franco, brother of James) trying to make his mark as a performer in an amateur acting class. He fails to impress and takes some displeasing advice from his instructor before taking his seat to question why he should even bother anymore. 

Those thoughts circulate for only a mere moment when Tommy (James Franco, in an Oscar-worthy turn) confidently takes the stage with an infectious energy and vampiric appearance that's equal parts weird and mesmerizing. He runs about the stage, throws a folding chair and screams Marlon Brando's memorable line — "Stellaaaah!" from 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire — for no apparent reason other than to present his misunderstood ideas of art.

James Franco in <i>The Disaster Artist</i>.A24
James Franco in The Disaster Artist.
A24

Tommy's fearlessness captures Greg's interest, and the two become fast friends and decide to head to Los Angeles to chase their dreams of being big-time actors. But when their luck seems to run out, with one botched audition after the other, Tommy and Greg decide to make their own movie. Little did they know that it would eventually become what is widely considered "the best worst movie ever." 

In less sensitive hands, Wiseau could have been a target of mockery. With his awkward mannerisms, funny accent and senseless ideas, it's not hard to imagine Wiseau as a clown. But Franco makes a point to show why he figuratively puts the clown makeup on. We are invited into Wiseau's dreams and insecurities, elevating the material above Franco and Seth Rogen's usual shtick to something with some serious awards potential.

Dave Franco and James Franco in the film, <i>The</i> <i>Disaster Artist.</i>
Dave Franco and James Franco in the film, The Disaster Artist.

The Disaster Artist is still a little rough around the edges, especially when it transitions to the last third of the film, but Franco delicately balances the story as a funny and touching tribute about perseverance and friendship. Even though it's about one of the worst movies ever made, the film about its making is rather incredible.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

FEATURED IMAGE: James Franco in The Disaster Artist. (A24)