‘The Disaster Artist’: Film Review | SXSW 2017

James Franco scores on both sides of the camera in ‘The Disaster Artist,’ a wildly funny Ed Wood-esque ode to great, bad moviemaking.

For the uninitiated, an oddly accented man named Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, financed and starred in a film called The Room, which opened in two Los Angeles theaters back in June 2003, grossing all of about $1,200.

That normally would have been the end of the story, except for the fact that the $6 million production would go on to achieve a rabid cult following, earning dubious praise as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” while Wiseau was dubbed a new millennium Ed Wood.

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The comedy sensation of SXSW 2017.

It has since gone on to inspire live stage readings, a video game and, now, thanks to director James Franco, The Disaster Artist, a rollicking “making of” satire that was shown late Sunday night as a “work in progress” at SXSW. Judging from the roaring reception given the film by a packed audience — a majority of whom were clearly well-versed in the source material — it works quite fine just the way it is.

Franco, who’s absolutely hysterical as the brooding, deluded Wiseau, leads a parade of familiar faces, including his brother Dave, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, Melanie Griffith and Sharon Stone, delivering a winning, Ed Wood-esque blend of comedy and pathos that could very well earn its own cult status when Warner Bros. locks in an as-yet-undetermined release date.

Based on the behind-the-scenes memoir of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, the film is seen through the eyes of Sestero (Dave Franco), an inhibited aspiring actor who strikes up an unusual relationship with the certifiably odd Wiseau in a San Francisco acting workshop led by Griffith.

With his long black hair, dark shades and fondness for wearing multiple belts, James Franco’s Wiseau could easily be taken for an aging Sunset Boulevard rocker with a vaguely Eastern European accent, even though he insists he comes from New Orleans.

Taking Sestero under his wing, he brings him to Los Angeles where he has an apartment he seldom uses, and while Sestero quickly finds an agent (Stone) and a girlfriend (Brie), the eccentric Wiseau isn’t as readily embraced. So he ultimately decides to call his own shots, writing and directing and starring in a self-financed would-be drama called The Room, instantly establishing himself as a triple threat  not in a good way.

James Franco, meanwhile, makes for a terrific double threat. While he’s clearly having a blast in the role of his career, he’s also a generous director who gives his all-star ensemble — which also includes the likes of Judd Apatow, Megan Mullally, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Bryan Cranston and Jacki Weaver — ample opportunity to shine.

Equally satisfying is the adaptation by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the team behind 500 Days of Summer and The Fault in Our Stars) that strikes a giddy, winning balance between hilarity and heart.

Production companies: New Line Cinema, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Rabbit Bandini Prods.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Sugar Lyn Beard, Zoey Deutch, Zac Efron, Bryan Cranston, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ari Graynor, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Megan Mullally, Zach Braff, Judd Apatow, Jacki Weaver
Director: James Franco
Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Producers: James Franco, Evan Goldberg, Vince Jolivette, Seth Rogen, James Weaver.
Executive producers: Kelli Konop, Alex McAtee, John Powers Middleton, Hans Ritter, Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake, Erin Westerman
Director of photography: Brandon Trost
Production designer: Chris L. Spellman
Costume designer: Brenda Abbandandolo
Editor: Stacey Schroeder
Composer: Dave Porter
Casting director: Rich Delia
Venue: South by Southwest (Headliners)

98 minutes