‘The Disaster Artist’ is a perfect mix of hilarity and humanity

Sunday, December 10, 2017 - 6:32pm

With a movie as infamous as “The Room” and a figure as idiosyncratic as Tommy Wiseau, it would have been all too easy to make “The Disaster Artist” — the story behind that much-maligned film’s production — a straight-up comedy. The laughs would have come easy through the simple reproduction of scenes, and caricaturizing Wiseau’s already larger-than-life personality would have provided star James Franco (“The Deuce”) with easy, hammy fodder.

Instead, the final product walks a much more difficult, but much more rewarding, line. The best comedies exist at the intersection of humor and heart; they make their audience laugh, of course, but they don’t forget the humanity of the characters delivering the jokes. “The Disaster Artist” accomplishes this perfectly. Not only is it every bit as hilarious as fans of the “‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies” would hope, but it provides a surprisingly poignant look at filmmaking, unlikely friendship and unlikelier success.

At the center of the film is Franco-as-Wiseau in the most ironically Oscar caliber performance of the year. I was initially wary of Franco casting himself in the role, both for that aforementioned fear that Tommy would be the butt of one too many jokes and because, shallow human being that I am, he didn’t quite look the part in the trailers and promotional materials. All my fears were assuaged within moments. In context, Franco completely inhabits the role, mining comedy not from peculiar mannerisms but from Tommy’s interactions with other characters — his reaction to the acting playing Chris-R (yes, that hyphen is in the film), setting up a later reveal which plays almost as a metatextual twist, is one of the biggest laughs of the year.

Even better than his comedic moments are the times when Franco, also in the director’s chair, lets the drama flow. “The Disaster Artist” doesn’t shy away from how hard rejection can be, even to seemingly unstoppable forces of nature like Tommy, as shown by an almost heartbreaking quiet scene between him and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, “Nerve”), his best friend and future costar. The filming of one of “The Room”’s many sex scenes, on the other hand, plays out as if in terrifying slow motion, building to a blistering confrontation between Tommy and Paul Scheer’s (“The League”) Raphael Smadja, the film’s director of photography, over Tommy’s harsh treatment of his female lead.

The rest of the cast is terrific, as well. The younger Franco brother’s portrayal of Sestero is arguably the main character of the movie — it’s predominantly told from his point of view, in any case, as the writer of the excellent book on which “The Disaster Artist” is based — and while his role is much more thankless than that of his brother, he is never completely upstaged. Seth Rogen (“Steve Jobs”) stands out from the packed supporting cast as the perpetually nonplussed script supervisor and de facto director, Sandy Schklair. As teased by the first trailer, the scene in which he must guide Tommy through the legendary “Oh, hi Mark” scene is one of the best the film has to offer.

The cast list from there on down is mostly celebrity cameos — even Dave Franco’s real life wife, Alison Brie (“GLOW”), is mostly relegated to the sidelines playing his onscreen girlfriend — but these are never too gratuitous, and the elder Franco is wise to keep the focus on Tommy and Greg. This is their story. “The Room,” for how insane a motion picture it is, sprung from their friendship, and “The Disaster Artist” is at its best when it allows their relationship and their personalities to supply the comedy and the drama. When it works, and it almost always does, the movie about their movie is an almost unparalleled, pitch perfect comedy.