There are films that are bad, then there are films that are impressively bad, then there’s The Room. The Room is often referred to as the worst movie ever made, but that doesn’t quite capture just how bizarre the film really is. Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, producer, and star of The Room set out to make the next great American drama and instead he captured lightning in a bottle. The Disaster Artist attempts to catalog the making of Wiseau’s midnight masterpiece, and along the way becomes one of the best films of the year.
James Franco’s film is based on Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist, which catalogues his role in making The Room and his relationship with the film’s enigmatic director Tommy, and so we really see things unfold from Greg’s perspective. Played by Dave Franco, Greg meets Tommy, played by his brother James Franco, at an acting class. Drawn in by his fearlessness, Greg asks Tommy to do a scene with him, and the two strike up a friendship that brings them to Los Angeles to strike it big in the movies. When neither has much luck with that, Tommy, who has a mysteriously endless supply of cash, decides they should make their own movie – they should make The Room.
The Disaster Artist works because it focuses not on the film The Room, but rather the creative forces behind it, Tommy and Greg. The Franco brothers prove the perfect cinematic analogues to Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. Dave is a younger actor seeking out more mainstream films, while James is known for taking odd projects and making unconventional choices. And while Dave does an admirable job in the film, it is James Franco’s transformative performance as Tommy that makes the film. For those of you who have not seen The Room, it is virtually impossible to describe just how strange Tommy Wiseau is. Having said that, Franco nails it, creating a portrayal that captures Wiseau’s alien persona without drifting into mockery or caricature.
By imbuing Tommy with a tragic delicacy, Franco turns a film that could have been a mean-spirited joke into a cogent portrayal of Hollywood disillusionment and misguided passion. Beneath Wiseau’s almost sinister mystique, there’s a passion that’s impossible not to admire. When a Hollywood producer played by Judd Apatow tells him that he’ll never be in the movies, not in a million years, Tommy earnestly asks, “But after that?” The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber of 500 Days of Summer fame pulls off the magic trick of turning Wiseau into a tragic figure without ever really granting us access to his mind. Tommy is always a mystery, but he is a beautifully rendered and empathetically portrayed one.
While Tommy Wiseau is one of Franco’s most transformative roles, The Disaster Artist is without a doubt his finest directorial work to date. Franco is nothing if not prolific, with more than two-dozen directing credits to his name, most of them budget productions of often dubious quality. Well, evidently, practice makes perfect. The Disaster Artist establishes Franco as a genuine talent behind the camera.
The Disaster Artist might be the oddest character study ever made, but it’s also one of the funniest films of the year. Those familiar with The Room know it as a gold mine of incidental comedy, and its impossible not to get a kick out of Franco and his team have painstakingly reproducing some of the most absurd scenes in film history. The Franco brothers have assembled a spectacular cast to fill out the real life roles in front of and behind the Wiseau’s camera, including Seth Rogen, Jackie Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, and Josh Hutcherson. But while the film certainly benefits from having scene Wiseau’s film, it’s by no means a prerequisite. The Disaster Artist stands on its own as a love letter to filmmaking and the perseverance in the face of better judgment.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
The Disaster Artist is about as close to a perfect comedy as we’re likely to get this year. James Franco’s transformative performance as Tommy Wiseau is worth the price of admission alone. It’s one of the most daring performances in recent memory, and certainly his finest to date. This is a film that could have gone horribly wrong in a hundred different ways. It’s not just good, it’s one of the best films about filmmaking ever made. If you’ve seen The Room, The Disaster Artist is required viewing. If you haven’t seen it, see it, then see The Disaster Artist.