There’s a chance that some small portion of the population in the United States has never, ever heard of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. It could be possibly that they’re too young, too old, or too cool to have never seen it. Regardless, it’s this diverse group that The Disaster Artist will have the hardest time winning over. Thankfully, due to the talent both in front of and behind the camera, paired with an infectious and delightfully weird tone, that gap could potentially be bridged. Make no mistake about it though, this wasn’t created with the to be a standard commercial success.
For the uninitiated, The Room is one of the most popular cult film of the last 30 years, possibly even surpassing Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Disaster Artist follows the events that lead up to and surround the tumultuous (and now legendary) making of said film. The majority of which is based upon the events covered in the book of the same name, written by Greg Sestero.
Now, initially that may seem like a strange prospect, until you read that James Franco directed the film. Over the last handful of years, the actor has attempted to diversify his work, with numerous goes at writing, directing and producing. Defying the odds, or possibly harnessing the inherent insanity, Franco takes it upon his broad shoulders to step into the part of the enigmatic Wiseau. He does so with the same gusto that garnered him with awards attention when he played James Dean years ago. Which in and of itself is a form of shared tissue, seeing as how Wiseau wanted to be a modern day Dean. It’s always been testament to his passion in how much he throws himself into projects that pique his interest. Franco succeeds with flying colors, becoming, as well as embracing a true madman in the process.
Taking the easier role of Greg Sestero is Dave Franco, getting to play both a struggling actor and long standing best friend to Wiseau. What could’ve easily been thrown under the bus as simple nepotism ends up a rousing success. Having the Franco’s play off each other is part of the glue that holds it all together. As tone changes ever so slightly and the focus of the movie becomes a little hazy, their constant interplay steadies the ship. After all, sincerity in the face of stupidity rings different when you have family backing you up. Here again is an example of the film’s endless heart and reverence which keeps everything from ever seeming too mean spirited.
Since this is an off kilter Franco-clan production, it would be right to assume his now familiar stable of actors have all joined in on the fun. From Seth Rogen to Jason Mantzoukas, Judd Appatow to Hannibal Burress, they’re all here and then some. The “some” basically consists of a series of cameos that are better off experienced, than spoiled. One actor in particular is characterized entirely by the terrible wig he wears throughout the film.
What’s astonishing is the amount of heart at the center of The Disaster Artist. It would easy for Franco to play up the oddball aspect, but he has genuine affection for the man. In the same way that he’s been told by Hollywood a few times that he needs to meet their mold to be a success, he’s able to commiserate with Tommy’s perceived shortcomings. Channeling his own inadequacies allows him to strip back the facade. What initially feels like an elongated joke becomes something more pure.
The allure that surrounds The Room often comes from a place of morbid curiosity. Anything that gets described as “the worst” is sure to have this effect. It also straddles the line of “laughing at” & “laughing with”. A difficult subject in it’s own right, Franco, along with writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, do deft work in creating a film that embraces both. ‘You can laugh at this thing,’ it seems to say, ‘but attempt to understand the man who made it to.’ It all sounds rightly ridiculous, but that’s what makes it all the more impressive.
If there are any complaints to be thrown at The Disaster Artist, then it’s most likely done so by someone who either isn’t a fan of or hasn’t seen The Room. What ends up on the screen is a weirdly captivating story of triumph, failure and ultimately success, just not in the way most would usually imagine. Maybe this was Tommy Wiseau’s plan all along, a weird road that ends up cementing his legacy, or even immortality. The only difference would be that in his version, at least as the rumor goes, he would rather Johnny Depp have played him. Beggars can’t be choosers though and most will agree that James Franco more than sells the part. In fact he may have made a mini-minor-masterpiece of his own.
*Editor’s Note: This review originally ran when the movie premiered at SXSW 2017. It has been updated to reflect the finalized version of the film as released in December.