The concept for ‘The Disaster Artist’ isn’t exactly the easiest to explain, especially to those with no prior knowledge of the source material which inspired it, the best bad movie of all time, ‘The Room’. I count myself as one of the millions of diehard fans of ‘The Room’, being as vocal as I can be about how much I love it at every given opportunity. The short story is ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a film based on the book of the same name written by Greg Sestero, who starred in the “the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies”, ‘The Room’, and who knows the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau better than anyone; Wiseau of course being the producer, director and star of ‘The Room’, brought to life in this film by James Franco.
Complicated spiel aside, it is worth mentioning that it is impossible to tackle this review without talking at least a little bit about what ‘The Room’ means to me; I am after all, the person who with all sincerity had this film higher than ‘The Last Jedi’ in terms of most anticipated!
The very fact that this film exists is a miracle. Considering ‘The Room’ made approximately $1800 on its opening weekend, and had it not been for the rabid group of fans who turned it into a genuine cult hit, it would’ve faded into nothingness. In many ways this feels like the culmination of everything Wiseau had wanted when he made his film. That money Tommy spent on keeping it in theatres long enough to qualify for the Academy Awards, might finally be about to pay off, in the weirdest, most wonderfully meta way possible; rather fitting for the incomparable Wiseau.
Pinpointing the moment in which ‘The Room’ went from woeful obscurity to genuine cult phenomenon isn’t easy, and it’s overwhelming popularity will undoubtedly baffle many. In fact, the reviews on Letterboxd are almost entirely an equal split between 1 stars and 5 stars, and I don’t doubt ‘The Disaster Artist’ will be divisive, although perhaps not so extreme.
As the most biased person in the world, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is an absolute masterpiece; captivating and hilarious in the most unexpected of ways, and with a warmth and honesty that was not anticipated. Arguably as divisive a person as the man he is portraying, James Franco is the perfect person for this film, both in playing Tommy and in mirroring the “triple threat” of actor/producer/director. In real life, Franco’s recent films and projects have been experimental, and generally not too critically well-received. He is a man who plays by his own rules, and this is everything that Wiseau embodies as well.
The fact that Franco’s performance as Tommy is a thing of total and complete perfection, is really just the icing on the cake. The way Franco entirely disappears into the character is astonishing to watch; nailing Wiseau’s untraceable accent, and especially his monotone laugh, the transformation is eerily accurate. Whilst aided by some prosthetics, the physical transformation is just incredible; everything down to Tommy’s slightly squinted left eye is completely perfect. As someone who has met Tommy (an experience in itself!), the only person who could’ve been more Tommy, is Tommy himself and this is a real testament to Franco’s performance. What he manages in this film is nothing short of remarkable and it would be an incredibly unjust world if he didn’t see some awards attention.
Whilst he might not be in the conversation to receive the same accolades, Dave Franco also deserves praise for his performance as Greg Sestero; Tommy’s co-star in ‘The Room’, best friend, and of course the author of the ‘Disaster Artist’ book. He might not be the most physically accurate Greg Sestero, but he has the “babyface” charm and the undeniable chemistry with Wiseau that is essential for making the central relationship work. Undoubtedly helped by being brothers in real life, the pair light up the screen together and are a total joy to watch. Having read (and obsessed over) Greg’s book, some adjustments have been made, but the strongest theme from the book is more than evident in the film. At its core, this is a story about friendship, about aiming big, and striving to achieve your goals no matter how many people tell you “no”, and ‘The Disaster Artist’ manages to put this across in a way that is as charming as it is hilarious.
It would be easy to make Tommy a figure for mockery and ridicule, but the film manages to capture that naivety that makes him so genuinely endearing, which ensures we’re almost constantly laughing with him and not at him. It is admirable also that the film doesn’t shy away from the complicated facets of Tommy’s personality. In a film where there is obvious and genuine admiration for the source material, it would have been natural to place him on some kind of pedestal, but whilst Tommy does come off well in the end, it equally doesn’t hide from the crazy and downright outrageous behaviour, and the notoriety Wiseau gained from his cast and crew in the disastrous filming of ‘The Room’.
Of course, it would be a catastrophic failure if this film wasn’t also totally hilarious, but the laughs come thick, fast and consistently, particularly as the film shifts into the actual making of ‘The Room’. The painstakingly accurate recreations of its well-loved scenes and moments are especially entertaining, and it is also in these moments that the supporting cast really shine. Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer are particularly excellent as the suffering crew members dealing with Tommy, and Zac Efron arguably steals the entire show as bit-part Chris R.
The phenomenon of ‘The Room’ might still be a mystery to many, and whilst ‘The Disaster Artist’ probably won’t change that viewpoint, it is still the most perfect and unexpected surprise in this unbelievable Hollywood fairytale. This is in so many ways everything that Tommy had wanted. He was the man with the big dreams, who made a terrible movie, which then captured the hearts of millions and was deemed a story incredible enough to become its own book and subsequent movie. Now genuinely poised for awards success, and with Wiseau and Sestero slowly becoming household names, the dream is coming true. The power of ‘The Room’ lives on, against all odds, and the story of a film considered a masterpiece of bad-filmmaking, is a masterpiece all on its own.
Oh hai Oscars.
(and be sure to check out Sarah’s review of Tommy and Greg’s latest film ‘Best F(r)iends‘)
Directed by: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron.