Like most people who watched The Room (2003), I found myself completely fascinated with Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic star and mastermind behind the film. When I found out there was a book written about the making of The Room, and then a comedic film based on said book, it served as validation of every thought I had while watching what many have dubbed the best worst film ever made; and this distinction could not be more apt. It is a truly horrible, misguided, perplexing film, but it is also the most fun I have ever had watching a movie (I can only imagine that the lively midnight showings are even better). However, I had my reservations about James Franco’s vision and reasoning behind making the film. As I stated in my review of The Room, it is very clear to just about anyone who sees the film that there is something not quite right about Tommy Wiseau. Sure, he looks a bit odd and, as his detractors in The Disaster Artist put it, “villainous,” and yes his accent is funny and sometimes unintelligible, but there is something much deeper that invites real sympathy for the man. He is not a bad guy; there are hints of mental illness, and certainly deep-seeded insecurities present, which makes him even more pitiable.
It was for this reason that I doubted the sincerity of The Disaster Artist. Franco has made a career out of relatively low-brow comedies, and though he has ventured into more serious territory from time to time, it looked as though he was sinking to a new low by mocking someone who had already endured about as much mocking as a person can take. Thankfully, The Disaster Artist takes a middle-of-the-road approach, allowing for both hilarious comedy and genuine melancholy, with James Franco giving one of the best performances of his career as Tommy Wiseau.
The film opens with a series of familiar comedic actors providing their two-cents about the inherent genius of The Room, and how one can’t help but be fascinated with Tommy after watching it. After this brief introduction, we meet Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the author of the film’s source material and, at the time, a young aspiring actor living with his mom in San Fransisco. One night while attending an amateur acting workshop, Greg encounters Tommy, whose erratic behaviour and apparent shamelessness fascinate him. Greg suffers from a lack of confidence in his own acting abilities, so, in an effort to learn from Tommy’s self-confidence, strikes up an unlikely friendship with him. Even though Greg asks all the right questions, he never finds out how old Tommy is, where he comes from, or how he makes his seemingly endless stream of money. When Tommy reveals that he has a second apartment in Los Angeles, the two move out to Hollywood to fulfil their mutual dream of becoming famous actors. However, when neither of their acting careers turn out as they had hoped, Tommy decides to make his own movie, and make it with his one and only friend, Greg. Though Greg has immediate reservations about the script, he holds his tongue, and the two set off to make the best worst movie ever made.
In order to really enjoy The Disaster Artist to the fullest extent, viewers should watch The Room first. Of course, you can understand the comedy of James Franco’s performance and see the inherent humor of the real-life events as they unfold, but it doesn’t capture the amazement one feels when experiencing, or even thinking about or discussing a film like The Room, or a person like Tommy Wiseau. Though the film doesn’t address every single oddity from The Room (I never remember them talking about the random pictures of spoons that people have found so amusing), so many of the questions that I found myself blurting out during The Room are blurted out by various characters in The Disaster Artist, which I found to be incredibly satisfying and validating. It honestly produces a weird sense of community with other spectators, and even seeks to bridge the gap between audience and filmmaker. You can tell that James Franco wants us to get the same feeling that he must have felt when watching The Room for the first time.
From a technical standpoint, The Disaster Artist is on par with just about any other of Franco’s comedies, but as far as his directing ability, it shows serious improvement from some of his earlier endeavours. Although Dave Franco’s performance is noticeably lackluster, it sort of mirrors the real life abilities of struggling actor Greg Sestero. Based solely on his performance in The Room, he was not a good actor, so it stands to reason that Dave Franco would want to replicate this fact, but perhaps I’m giving him too much credit.
Another aspect of the film that makes it more enjoyable for those who have already seen The Room is the incredible attention to detail. The filmmakers go to great lengths to reproduce every terrible (but brilliant) nuance from the original, from the timing of certain lines down to the horrible sound design and bizarre staging; even the casting is superb. Josh Hutcherson is spot-on as Philip Haldiman, the actor who played Denny, the boyish surrogate son to Tommy, a role that he was much too old to play. Ari Granyor is similarly well-cast as Juliette Danielle, the actress who portrayed Tommy’s unfaithful love interest in the film. Even without the fantastic casting, The Room is reenacted to perfection; but the best part is getting to see all of the drama and chaos that went on behind the scenes. It sheds so much light on the original film, making you want to go back and rewatch a film that already begs to be rewatched again and again. Seeing Tommy come down with a case of stage fright, and then get aggressive and defensive to the point of absurdity is hilarious, and honestly makes so much sense after watching The Room.
Though The Disaster Artist could never hope to be as ridiculously fun as The Room, it comes about as close as a well-made film ever could. James Franco didn’t make the film to be purely about mockery, but instead made it about a strange loner who had a dream to be a big star, and, despite everyone telling him he would never succeed, came out a winner.
Rating: ★★★★ out of 5
The Disaster Artist is available to purchase via Amazon here.
Additionally, The Room is available to purchase here.