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'The Disaster Artist' Is The Best Movie About A Bad Movie


What is the worst movie you have ever seen? Well, many people might point to Tommy Wiseau's "The Room," a romantic drama so ineptly made it has been called the "Citizen Kane" of bad movies. "The Room" has inspired a cult following, a video game and a making-of memoir. And now the memoir has been turned into a movie directed by and starring James Franco. It's called "The Disaster Artist." Critic Bob Mondello says it may be the best movie about a bad movie you'll ever see.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Even the worst movie in the world had to start somewhere, so our story begins a little before "The Room." The year is 1998. Teenager Greg Sestero is a wannabe actor so nervous he's barely audible in his acting class.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) You're like a wounded puppy. Do you even want to be an actor?

DAVE FRANCO: (As Greg) Yeah, more than anything.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) OK, well...

MONDELLO: Also in the class - Tommy Wiseau, an older guy who throws chairs, climbs to the light grid, screams.


JAMES FRANCO: (As Tommy, unintelligible).

MONDELLO: Greg is clean-cut. Tommy's seriously weird. So of course they bond and head for LA to try to crack the big time. Greg at least gets an agent. Tommy's auditions don't go quite as well.


J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) Try not fall asleep everybody. Any question before we start?

CASEY WILSON: (As Casting Director #2) It sounds like you're doing - am I hearing an accent...

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) Oh, no, no. What do you mean?

WILSON: (As Casting Director #2) ...'Cause I'm hearing a kind of Eastern European accent.

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) No, that's from New Orleans.

WILSON: (As Casting Director #2) Where? What?

MONDELLO: Clearly not ready for his close-up, so Tommy decides they should make their own movie. He writes a script and then starts writing checks. And the checks don't bounce. And now this guy of indeterminate age, origin and financing is making "The Room" with Greg increasingly wondering what's going on as Tommy stars and directs.


SETH ROGEN: (As Sandy) Action.

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) What line? What line?

ROGEN: (As Sandy) I did not hit her. It's not true. It's [expletive]. I did not hit her. I did not. Oh, hi, Mark.

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) OK.

ROGEN: (As Sandy) Action.

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) What is line?

ROGEN: (As Sandy) I did not hit her.

MONDELLO: That's Seth Rogen behind the camera - in front of the camera, as it were - while James Franco is so Tommy under a black mane of hair, he's practically unrecognizable. Franco supposedly stayed in character all the time he was not just starring in but also directing "The Disaster Artist," which is interesting.


J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) I did not hit her. I - OK, OK, line?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) I did not hit her.

MONDELLO: Franco also has a rep for being, shall we say, over the top - such a workaholic jack-of-all-trades that in the last decade, he's not just acted and directed. He's published poetry, short stories and a novel, earned both an undergrad degree and a Master's in Fine Arts, hosted the Oscars and gotten nominated for one.

And here, playing a guy who's convinced he can do anything, who sort of did do anything without discernible talent, Franco has not just made a really sharp, funny movie about movie making. He's also made a layered and intimate portrait of a friendship with his own brother, Dave Franco, cast as Tommy's best friend, Greg, who Tommy cast - remember - as his best friend in "The Room." If all of this weren't true, you'd never believe it.


J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) I don't want a career.

D. FRANCO: (As Greg) You don't want a career. I thought that's...

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) I'm want my own planet.

D. FRANCO: (As Greg) Your own planet?

J. FRANCO: (As Tommy) Yeah, it's cool. Everybody love each other. That's why it's the best planet.

MONDELLO: Do you need to have seen "The Room" to understand this movie? Well, when I saw it, the guy sitting to my right had never seen "The Room." The guy to my left said he had seen it way too many times. And I'd seen it once about a decade ago. And we all laughed at different moments, but I'd say we laughed about equally, which says something.

One thing all of us sat open-mouthed at along with the rest of the audience - the final credits for "The Disaster Artist" have about 3 minutes of side-by-side excerpts - Franco's recreation of "The Room" on one side, the original scenes from "The Room" on the other and the audio up on both sides so you can tell how precisely it's been reproduced - not just sets and costumes and angles but expressions, inflections, timing so exact that you'll lose track of which is which. As that final reel reels, the mind reels, too. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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