2003’s The Room, written, directed and starring the then unknown Tommy Wiseau, is one of the most critically derided and cult-loved films of this generation. Made on a reported final budget of $US6 million dollars, shot in both 35mm and HD video simultaneously, and with a story that is, at best, nonsensical, The Room remains one of the most talked about ‘jokes’ in Hollywood today. It would be easy then, for James Franco’s The Disaster Artist to be a feature-length joke at Wiseau’s expense. But, in Franco’s hands, this story of burning passion, love of cinema and unwavering belief in self and dreams becomes more than just an exploitation of Wiseau’s eccentricities. With a deft balance of reverence and mockery, Franco brings to life a rich and utterly mesmerising story of one man’s dream to be a Hollywood star and just how far he would go to disprove everyone who consistently told him no.
Adapted from Greg Sestero’s wild and unbelievably true memoir of the same name, The Disaster Artist tells the story of Sestero (played with boyish charm by Dave Franco) and his involvement in the making of The Room, a drama crafted and financed by his unusual and at times creepy friend, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Split into two fairly distinctive parts, the film begins by chronicling the pair’s unlikely friendship, formed as fledgling acting students, before segueing into the meatier and more comedic retelling of the making of The Room. As the production progresses, these two struggling actors find their dreams and ambitions becoming increasingly intertwined, and learn that the cost of success may be more than they ever bargained for.
No stranger to film adaptations, seasoned screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Fault In Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, 500 Days of Summer) craft a sharp and witty screenplay out of Sestero’s memoir. Equal parts buddy comedy, fascinating character study and behind-the-scenes look, the pair bring a welcome emotional depth to Sestero’s memoir, exploring the connection and affection of Tommy and Greg’s friendship amidst the bizarre and incredulous filming conditions of The Room.
Whilst the script is well crafted, there are still plenty of questions unanswered about Wiseau by the film’s end. Setting the story from Greg’s perspective limits the perspective of the movie. There are key moments during The Room‘s development and pre-production that offer fascinating potential and insight into both The Room and Wiseau himself; moments that are sadly brushed through quickly in montage. These minor criticisms are, however, easily overlooked within the context of the movie overall.
Making his eighteenth film as director (yes, eighteenth), Franco deftly balances a tone of heart and humour in his methodical and meticulous recreation of his muse. No stranger to Hollywood’s piercing glare, judgement and often misunderstanding of “Franco the artist”, Franco’s direction is underscored by a sense of fascination, understanding and, at times, sympathy. More than anything else, Wiseau is depicted as a dreamer, an outsider who is persistent in his desire to be ‘an all American hero’. Indeed, watching Tommy and Greg’s plight becomes compelling, laugh-out-loud hilarious and at times incredibly uncomfortable – in all the right ways. You are drawn in with every cringe-worthy moment, unable to look away, even at the most incredulous of scenes. The fact that the picture is simultaneously fascinating and incredibly uncomfortable speaks to the strength and competence of Franco’s direction.
Undoubtedly, the biggest strength of The Disaster Artist is Franco’s performance as Wiseau. Perfectly encapsulating the man’s trademark vague accent, disjointed speech and unique presence, Franco is simply mesmerising. His performance is truly magnetic, perfectly embodying the star quality that Wiseau believed/s he had. It is impossible to take your eyes off him, and Franco knows how and when to play this to his advantage. As a character, Wiseau is a source of complexity and interest. He is as kind and generous as he is intense, fierce, bullish and mean. By the film’s end, you feel for Wiseau, this underdog outsider Franco ensures you root for. In spite of the seemingly deranged and demanding guy he seems to be, you become as invested in Wiseau’s dreams of being a star as he is; a feat almost entirely attributed to Franco’s nuanced performance.
As his ever loyal and long-suffering sidekick Greg, Dave Franco is the embodiment of the puzzled and amused audience watching them on screen. The brotherly bond of these two informs the pair’s chemistry and this friendship, struck up in the most unlikely of circumstances, is beautifully formed and explored. The two actors match each other’s energy onscreen and it is hard to imagine Franco being as good without the earnestness his brother gives Greg.
Rounding out the cast are the pair’s very famous friends and family, including Alison Brie, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Bob Odenkirk and Josh Hutcherson, to name a few. Each member of this all-star cast brings depth and hilarity to their role, no matter how small. Rogen, who served as a co-producer on the film, is particularly good, putting his trademark dry and sardonic humour to good use as The Room’s suffering script producer without a script. The cast camaraderie and familiarity makes for great scenes during production.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that whilst this review makes copious references to the source material and thematic muse of the movie, The Room, viewers need not an intimate knowledge of it to fully understand and appreciate The Disaster Artist. Sure, most people going to watch this movie will have watched Wiseau’s film, or at the very least, seen some YouTube clips of its most famous scenes, but it is by no means compulsory pre-watching. Whilst there is enjoyment in being able to pinpoint influence and recreations of The Room as the film progresses, at its heart, The Disaster Artist is the story of one man with a dream to be a big Hollywood star and unbelievable lengths he went to in order to make it come true. More than anything, it’s this journey that makes the film so enjoyable.
On reflection, it is easy to see why Franco and Co. were drawn to this project. In many ways, Franco and Wiseau are kindred spirits. Misunderstood and ridiculed by the very culture, people and lifestyle they so desperately wanted to be a part of; Hollywood has been, at times, unkind and critical to both of them. Here, Franco draws on all of that to give you a refreshingly honest and humorous portrayal of a man on a mission to create something beautiful.
In its analysis of The Room, The Disaster Artist is thorough and humourous. Similarly, in its portrayal of its bizarre and vague creator, it is honest, complex and layered. This is an uncomfortable, cringe-worthy and, ultimately, utterly engrossing movie-going experience. A hot contender for some award recognition, The Disaster Artist truly lives up to its title as a beautiful, artistic representation of what is arguably one of the best disasters in Hollywood history. This is one not be missed.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10