The Disaster Artist
Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Every year hundreds of movies are made. Out of those hundreds, very few actually make money. The Disaster Artist (based on the 2013 book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell) tells the true behind the scenes story of a very unlikely success. Well, sort of success.
It tells the story of the production of 2003’s The Room, an independently financed movie that became an underground hit in Los Angeles after its premiere and slowly gained in popularity to the point where it now gets shown at midnight screenings all over the country. However, its popularity is not because it is good. It has gained so many fans because it is very, very bad. It is the kind of entertainingly bad movie that can only be made by someone who so earnestly wants to make a great movie. That would be its one of a kind star, Tommy Wiseau, who was so convinced he was making an operatic classic on par with Tennessee Williams that he refused to listen to anyone else’s reservations about his story, directorial choices or decision to cast himself in the lead. That has been a boon for fans of the film who have made it an interactive movie going experience on a par with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The Room has garnered a large celebrity following so it is not a surprise that The Disaster Artist has a great cast. James Franco (a 2011 Best Actor Oscar nominee for 127 Hours) stars as the deluded auteur Wiseau with his brother, Dave Franco, as Wiseau’s friend and muse Greg Sestero. Also appearing in the film in roles of varying size are Seth Rogen, comedian Paul Scheer, Ari Graynor (most recently seen on the Showtime drama I’m Dying Up Here), Alison Brie (star of the Netflix series GLOW), Jason Mantzoukas (who costarred in the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy The House), comedian Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder (star of Comedy Central’s Nathan for You), Zac Efron (costar of this summer’s Baywatch), Sharon Stone and Melanie Griffith among many, many other recognizable actors and comedians. It is one of those films where nearly every actor with a speaking role will be recognized by regular moviegoers.
There have been a few films this year filled with funny people that have been total disasters. But The Disaster Artist is not only very funny, it has also been made with a surprising amount of respect and even admiration, for its subjects.
The film opens with Greg, at nineteen years old, taking acting classes. Though he really wants to be an actor, he struggles to express himself in front of an audience. One day, Tommy, a fearless man of unknown origins, takes the stage and performs Tennessee Williams with reckless abandon. Greg is impressed with this display and strikes up a conversation with Tommy, who helps Greg overcome his shyness. Soon, Tommy convinces Greg to move to Los Angeles with him so they can become movie stars. Of course, that does not go as planned. However, Tommy has a lot of money and decides that the best way to make them stars is for him to write, produce and direct his own film starring him and Greg. And thus The Room was born.
The rest of The Disaster Artist chronicles the film’s production, which was made even more difficult because Tommy Wiseau had his own unique, and unwavering, ideas about how a film should be made and refused to listen to his more experienced crew.
The Room does not become a cult favorite without Wiseau’s bizarre presence and enigmatic real life persona and The Disaster Artist is not half as entertaining without James Franco’s embodiment of Wiseau. The film wisely does not attempt to explain Wiseau at all. One of the film’s running gags is how he refuses to acknowledge his wealth or his (possibly Eastern European) accent (he insists that he is from New Orleans). By centering the film on Greg (which also makes sense since it is adapted from his memoir), Franco and his team allow us to witness Wiseau’s oddness without making viewers relate to it or understand it. He is a force of nature that sweeps Greg up and sets the story in motion.
Though Franco’s performance could be dismissed, as, unfortunately, comic performances often are, it certainly should not be. What he does here is very difficult. He is playing a real man known for his eccentricities. It would have been so easy to turn Tommy Wiseau into a caricature, but he does not do that. Quirks and all, he makes Tommy feel like a real person with hopes and dreams and emotions (he gets a big assist here from screenwriting team Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (this is the seventh screenplay they have worked on together) who not only shy away from mocking Wiseau, they also make things easy to follow for people who have never seen The Room). That makes the film a lot funnier than if it was just Tommy Wiseau saying and doing weird things for an hour and a half. As odd as this may sound, this may very well be the best performance of James Franco’s career.
The Disaster Artist (98 minutes not including the end credits), while dealing with a very bad movie, is, in a way, a love letter to filmmaking. It has respect for everyone who worked on The Room (and really any film, good or bad) because, as one of the actors says after a particularly bad experience, for actors “the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day off of one.” The Disaster Artist shares that mentality.
Comedy can be a difficult thing to pull off, but The Disaster Artist does even more than that; it is a very funny movie that never condescends to its characters, regardless of how bad The Room turned out to be. Tommy Wiseau may be a bad writer, actor and filmmaker, but he successfully created his own feature-length motion picture that has been screening for appreciative audiences for the last fourteen years and will most likely continue to do so for years to come. There is something kind of awesome about that.
4¼ out of 5
Dave Franco as Greg
James Franco as Tommy
Seth Rogen as Sandy
Paul Scheer as Raphael
Ari Graynor as Juliette
Alison Brie as Amber
Jacki Weaver as Carolyn
Zac Efron as Dan
Josh Hutcherson as Philip
Directed by James Franco
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber