The Disaster Artist review: Hollywood hotshots craft a comedy of humiliation

The Disaster Artist film poster.

The Disaster Artist film poster.

The Disaster Artist - Dave Franco (left) as Greg Sestero and James Franco as Tommy Wiseau.

The Disaster Artist - Dave Franco (left) as Greg Sestero and James Franco as Tommy Wiseau.

(M) General release (104 minutes)

Judd Apatow???, the reigning king of comedy in Hollywood, does a cameo here where he tells the character Tommy Wiseau???, the butt of this movie's joke, that just because you want to be a big star doesn't mean it's going to happen - and in his case, it will never happen.

Wiseau, played by James Franco, is one curious dude: long black hair like Ozzy Osbourne and somewhat similar clarity about the world; a thick Eastern European accent that he pretends is from New Orleans; a set of clothes that might have been stolen from Michael Jackson's stage wardrobe - brocades and chains and belts everywhere.

Tommy's hold on reality is precarious, his face pasty and pock-marked, but his determination to succeed in Hollywood is kind of lovable. He will do anything to get noticed, which is why he ends up shouting Hamlet's soliloquy at an increasingly steamed Apatow in a fancy restaurant - forever closing the door on that particular producer's favour.

It's a funny scene but it leaves a slightly bitter taste. Here are two of Hollywood's new generation: the successful hyphenate James Franco (actor-director-star-writer and Oscar nominee, if never again an Oscar host) and Apatow, the producer of seemingly every major comedy of the last 10 years - and they're making fun of a guy who just wants to be a contender, to make it into their league.

That's the fly in this tube of Hollywood ointment. It feels like an insider's movie where the guys who've succeeded in making it inside have a good laugh at those who haven't. I don't think that's quite what Franco intended but that's what he achieves, so intentions are moot.

Franco tries to head off my kind of reaction at the end where we meet the real Wiseau, whose 2003 film The Room has become a cult hit - and a by-word for terrible. Wiseau comes across as having a sense of humour about himself. He's a good sport, albeit supremely odd.

The Room pops up regularly at special screenings around town, where it's usually billed as the worst movie ever made - though there's a new one of those every decade and Hollywood sometimes makes a movie about the dodos who did it, as with Johnny Depp playing Ed Wood for Tim Burton in 1994.

The Disaster Artist is that movie for the new century, with Dave Franco (brother of James) playing a gullible young wannabe actor, Greg Sestero???, who becomes Tommy's friend during an acting class in San Francisco. Tommy's only friend, in fact, and the object of his somewhat unsettling desire - although Sestero never responds to the underlying sexual tension.

These two innocents go to Hollywood to break into show business, sharing Tommy's Los Angeles apartment. Tommy has unlimited funds, the origin of which - like his home country - are unexplained. He doesn't like such questions.

When their careers do not rocket, they decide to make a movie themselves - which becomes The Room. Seth Rogen??? plays the first assistant director amidst a series of star cameos: Bryan Cranston???, Sharon Stone, Zac Efron.

The movie Franco thinks he's making is about the mercurial nature of Hollywood success - the idea that he's not so different to mad Tommy. There but for the grace of God??? etc. Except that he is different because Franco has loads of talent and Wiseau wouldn't know talent if it was a Rottweiler attached to his bottom.

That's the superiority that Franco can't avoid embracing. I don't say Franco wouldn't know humility if it was the same Rottweiler, but it's hard to refrain.

That makes this a comedy of humiliation, which is a popular commodity right now. Reality TV is devoted to it and Apatow helped turn it into a river of money with films like The 40-year-old Virgin. Comedy has always been brutal - just never quite as brutal as it is now.

On its own terms, The Disaster Artist is a funny movie. Franco gives a weirdly wonderful performance as the stranger-than-fiction, almost vampiric Tommy - a man whose accent, wooden acting and strange appearance would never allow him to succeed in Hollywood.

Oh wait - what about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne Johnson? Not to mention that The Room has now made a profit, and made Wiseau famous. No doubt he will soon run for president.

The Disaster Artist is released at Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, Sydney; Luna Cinemas, Perth; and Cinema Nova, Melbourne, on November 30 and nationwide on December 7.

This story The Disaster Artist review: Hollywood hotshots craft a comedy of humiliation first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.