Oh hi, James.
Based on his career so far, James Franco’s abilities as a director are inversely proportional to the source material he adapts. His grad-student enthusiasm for low-budget Faulkner and Steinbeck has already worn thin. Only he could read The Sound and the Fury and think, this definitely needs more Danny McBride and Seth Rogen.
But The Disaster Artist is so perfectly meta: An hit-and-miss actor-director with endless funding for hundreds of bad movies, playing a so-bad-he’s-infamous actor-director with endless funding to make one really, really bad movie. Franco’s Tommy Wiseau is even more exaggerated than the real man: his wig looks a little more fake, his accent captures all the cadences but sounds like he’s putting it on purposefully. Franco’s Wiseau is basically an alien; if you haven’t seen The Room, you might think he’s a fictional character. The real Tommy’s eccentricities have been well-documented, like building his own personal toilet but neglecting to provide water to the cast. But in Franco’s performance, he’s also a gentle giant—so committed to his (uhh…) vision that there’s a sweetness to him, even when he’s at his most mercurial and delusional.
The Franco carnival troupe of regulars—Rogen included—fits this project really well. Even the goofier aspects of the casting, like Dave Franco pretending he’s 19, don’t matter much. It probably helps that other people wrote the screenplay (Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter), instead of the star. I suspect James Franco knows why his casting makes sense. He must know people mock his film projects; we’re still making fun of his 2011 Oscars hosting. But Tommy Wiseau’s story suggests if you keep going, you’ll get there. Pursue your dreams, even if they’re misguided.
At the end of The Disaster Artist, Wiseau hosts a swanky L.A. premiere of his magnum opus. Nervous laughs turn into full-out howling as the movie goes on; when Wiseau’s character grabs a gun to shoot himself, the crowd chants “Do it!” I doubt that night was when the real Tommy instantly embraced the mockery, like we see in The Disaster Artist. We seem him distraught (they’re tearing him apart!), then after a quick pep talk from Greg, he decides to accept the audience’s raucous laughter and play along. It’s one of those plot devices script writers invent to make a story more “big Hollywood.”
You know, I think he’d probably respect that.