Every night, Peter Kuplowsky, the baby-faced new curator of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, has a wooden hat rack brought out to the stage of the Ryerson Theatre so he can try and land his king-of-the-geeks fedora on one of the hooks. A carnival game to go with the idea that this is the festival’s midway and sideshow, never mind the glitzy red carpet or the black Escalades crawling like tortoises along Gerrard Street. But the packed screening of The Disaster Artist (Grade: C), introduced by James Franco, boasts the loudest and most excitable crowd I’ve seen in my years at TIFF. Which is good, because The Disaster Artist is just barely a movie.
For now, the facts: The Disaster Artist is an adaptation of the memoir of the same title by Greg Sestero about his involvement in the making of the sublimely turgid, outsider-ish melodrama The Room and his friendship with its Draculoid star, director, writer, and financier, Tommy Wiseau; it has about the same production values as The Room, but with more filming locations and better lighting; it was written by the duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days Of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Fault In Ours Stars, etc.) and directed by Franco, who also plays Wiseau; it will not make any sense if you haven’t see The Room.
The setup isn’t bad, introducing Sestero (Dave Franco) as a 20-year-old wannabe thespian flubbing through a Waiting For Godot scene in an acting class. In storms Wiseau in a Napoleonic jacket and frilled red velvet blouse, shouting “Stella!” as he tosses chairs and climbs up a stage ladder like King Kong. A friendship is struck up—the two totally talentless amateur actors, one a wide-eyed pretty boy, the other an inexplicably wealthy mystery man. This is Franco’s 18th feature as a director, and after years of hacking out unwatchable literary adaptations and biopics, he has matured into completely anonymous, tone-deaf semi-competence.
But while Wiseau’s ineptitude and tyranny behind the scenes of his mystifying magnum opus make for a few funny scenes, there is no point at which The Disaster Artist attempts to work on its own as a film—not even as a poor man’s Ed Wood. Part of the perverse fascination of The Room is the way Wiseau’s personality awkwardly imposes itself into every frame, stilted line, and creepy subtext, but the lazy fannishness of The Disaster Artist prevents it from thinking of its protagonist as anything more than a funny accent with mood swings; even Wiseau’s evasive comments about his age and early life are handled evasively. How does he write The Room? By pounding on a typewriter in a montage.
Franco does partly recreate Denis Lavant’s dance from the end of Beau Travail, a cute touch that copies Wiseau’s own habit of making ambitious quotations. But otherwise it’s one tribute-act re-enactment after another, a succession of pointless star and comedian cameos and truly godawful wigs, the entire lazy enterprise summed up by the awful, teddy-bear-fur beard that Dave Franco wears through most of the movie. If The Room is an ersatz likeness of a movie, then what does that make an ersatz likeness of The Room? The only people actually acting in the film are Jacki Weaver and Zac Efron, who play jobbing actors tasked with bringing two of the more memorable subplots in Wiseau’s script to life; they’re both wonderful.