Based on the book of the same name, The Disaster Artist chronicles the making of Tommy Wiseau’s famous cult classic The Room, which is widely considered the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Originally released in 2003, The Room became a film that transcended its own awfulness and rose to the ranks of “so bad it’s good” thanks to its well-meaning (but inherently flawed) aspirations and the enigmatic personality of Wiseau himself. In the years since, it earned a widespread cult following and is now a staple of the midnight circuit, providing entertainment to cinephiles everywhere. Anyone who’s seen The Room can tell you it’s an experience, and the same can be said for the story behind it. The Disaster Artist is an endearing tale of friendship and chasing your dreams that packs a surprisingly poignant punch.
In 1998, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a struggling wannabe actor, failing to leave much of an impression at his acting class. His life changes when he meets the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a secretive figure who isn’t afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve and go for broke when performing a scene. Realizing that they have the same aspirations of making it big in Hollywood, the two become fast friends and move to Tommy’s apartment in Los Angeles together. There, they are thrown through the wringer of the industry, failing audition after audition for years and never landing any roles.
Discouraged by the opinion he should be typecast as a villain (when he’s an All-American hero), Tommy considers giving up on an acting career. But when Greg offhandedly comments the duo should make their own movie, the idea takes hold of Tommy and he quickly bangs out the script for The Room. With Tommy funding the project with his wealth of unknown origins, Sestero and Wiseau recruit a cast and crew to make their dream a reality. However, it soon becomes clear that Tommy is out of his element, making baffling creative choices that could derail his film and turn it into something else entirely.
The real Tommy Wiseau is so eccentric and off-kilt, he’s like a movie character come to life, so the risk with something like The Disaster Artist is that Tommy’s portrayal devolves into caricature. Fortunately, James Franco is fully committed to the part, disappearing into the role by transforming himself into the perplexing filmmaker. His turn is not one of mere impersonation; Franco’s Tommy is a driven person with clear and relatable motivations, making him a sympathetic protagonist to follow through this narrative. It never feels like Franco is mocking Wiseau’s mannerisms or pattern of speech and he just becomes the character in a way that’s truly impressive. Franco has received a fair amount of awards buzz for his performance, and he more than lives up to the hype in that regard.
Not to be outdone by his brother, Dave Franco also excels as Greg, clearly the more grounded and “normal” of the two leads and ideal straight man to Tommy. As one would expect, the siblings have terrific onscreen chemistry with each other, crafting a heartfelt and compelling dynamic that peels back various layers of Tommy and Greg’s relationship. The Disaster Artist isn’t afraid to cover the messier side of their friendship, making the film more well-rounded and stronger in the long run. By the end, the Tommy/Greg arc pays off in a stirring manner. The Francos are the beating heart of this movie and both are up for the task.
While The Disaster Artist is clearly the James and Dave show, their costars are more or less pushed to the background in order to focus more on Tommy and Greg. The likes of Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, and Paul Scheer make up fellow members of The Room‘s crew, but they aren’t given much to do besides recreate scenes from Wiseau’s picture (to staggeringly accurate effect, it must be said) and react to the train wreck unfolding before them in real time. None of the supporting performances are bad, per se, it’s just there isn’t much for the other actors to do (which could be a byproduct of the Disaster Artist book more than anything else). The same can be said for a minor romantic subplot involving Greg and his girlfriend Amber (Alison Brie), which is very much underdeveloped and doesn’t add much to the final product other than a somewhat clichéd angle where Tommy becomes jealous of Greg’s new relationship.
However, these are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things, as the script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber paints the Tommy Wiseau story as a gonzo La La Land, where the primary theme is never giving up on your dreams. In a way, The Disaster Artist is quite inspirational, due to a powerful message that’s sure to speak to anyone (not just a filmmaker/artist) who’s been in a position where all seemed lost. It would have been exceptionally easy for those involved to just point their fingers at Wiseau and laugh, but it’s clear Franco and his collaborators truly admire the auteur’s unique vision and did the best they could to respect it. That passion for the material comes across onscreen, and whether one is familiar with The Room or not, it’s hard to not get swept up along this incredible journey.
Somehow, what is arguably the worst movie ever made has spawned one of 2017’s finest offerings. A labor of love by Franco, The Disaster Artist is a must-see for fans of Wiseau’s bizarro masterpiece and lovers of film in general. Though it’s not getting the Best Picture buzz some other dramas are this season, cinephiles should still be inclined to check it out if it’s playing in their area. James Franco’s performance is one for the ages, and it’s just undeniably entertaining from start to finish. For those who are planning on checking this one out in theaters, be sure to stay through the credits for a fun surprise.
The Disaster Artist is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 104 minutes and is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.
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