James Franco’s acting career can best be described as manic. Since 1997, the actor has clocked up over 140 roles across film and television; some of them good, some of them bad but also a small amount are arguabl outstanding. His performance in The Disaster Artist definitely falls in the latter category, though it may just be too funny to earn him an Oscar.
The movie tells the true story of the making of The Room, a movie that is considered “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” but has enjoyed cult status since its premiere in the early Noughties. Franco plays Tommy Wiseau – the director, writer, producer, financier and star of the film, which he decides to make with his friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) after they endure continuing rejections in Hollywood. Franco loses himself in the character of Tommy and not just under a mountain of prosthetics. His Tommy is a ridiculous, egotistical man shrouded in mystery, who you find yourself laughing at, not with, throughout the movie.
However, the true appreciation for Franco’s performance should come from more than his ability to make you laugh at Tommy, but how he forces you to stop laughing to better understand his character’s struggle to be “a true American hero” in his own life, as well as on screen. When it comes down to it though, The Disaster Artist is very much a comedy (with a few dramatic moments) and Academy Awards history has not been kind to the genre.
Since the Eighties, only four men have taken home the Oscar for Best Actor after starring in a comedic movie. Dustin Hoffman picked up the gong in 1988 for playing Raymond Babbitt in comedy-drama Rain Man – which also won Best Picture – but it would be nine years before another comedy performance did the same, that being Jack Nicholson’s in As Good As It Gets as the miserly Melvin Udall.
A year later, Roberto Benigni famously took home the Best Actor award – after making quite a scene on the way to the stage – for his role as Guido Orefice in wartime comedy drama Life Is Beautiful. The last person to win an Oscar for a comedy film was Jean Dujardin in 2011 for his role in The Artist as George Valentin. That film is the only comedy to win the Best Picture Oscar this century too, before that it was Shakespeare In Love in 1998, and both wins probably have something to do with Hollywood’s love affair with itself.
Often movies that are about acting, theatre or the film business do well come awards season; A Star is Born, Gods and Monsters, La La Land, Sunset Boulevard, Birdman, Adaptation, Singin’ in the Rain, and Hugo to name just a few. This could certainly work in The Disaster Artist’s favour as it is obviously about the film industry and set in and around Hollywood. The fact that it is a biographical feature could also mean Academy voters give it a better look at too. Four bio-pics have taken home the Best Picture Oscar this decade with nearly 30 actors and actresses winnin for playing real people since the year 2000.
With those factors in mind, one would hope that a movie like The Disaster Artist, which has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the reviews aggregator website), would earn a Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor nod at least. Sadly, when brilliant comedies like Rushmore, The Big Lebowski, Deadpool, Man on the Moon, Dazed And Confused, Beverly Hills Cop and Borat have been ignored in the past it’s hard to feel too confident about the film’s chances next year. Academy members obviously don’t consider comedic movies as being as prestigious or as worthy than more serious offerings, even when those offerings are critically and commercially inferior.
Bridesmaids was a landmark movie in the genre as it proved to studios that female-led comedies, written by women, could be well-received by mass audiences. It earned $288.4 million at the international box office off the back of a $32.5 million budget and was lauded by critics across the board, but when the 2012 Oscar nominations came around it was shockingly snubbed. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which has a 46% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and only made $55 million at the box office, landed a Best Picture nod instead.
Beverly Hills Cop was of the most popular movies of 1984 and earned a staggering $316.4 million off a $14 million budget. The Eddie Murphy-led film was just as well received by critics as Prizzi’s Honor, but the latter cost $2 million more, took home just $26.66 million, and still ended up with Best Picture nomination.
So no matter how great a movie James Franco has made, or stellar performance he has given as Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist may just be too funny for its own good to win the top Oscar prizes. Of course, a lack of recognition at the awards does not make it any less of a great film; it just would be nice to see Franco’s best ever work recognised with the highest honour Hollywood affords.