There in perhaps no film in existence that better exemplifies “cult” status than Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. A titanic miff on every level imaginable, Wiseau’s self-produced “romantic drama” is often called the worst movie ever made. And rightfully so. Anyone who’s had the privilege of witnessing this filmic trainwreck is treated to a level of incompetence that is almost endearing in its epic failure. If you however are among the many uninitiated, I would suggest you stop reading and run to your nearest video store (assuming it still exists) to grab a copy The Room. I guarantee they have one.
That’s not to say that The Disaster Artist spoils any of the fun. They function independently but as a collection, ho baby, they are sweet. And while The Room has become so popular that it continues to play to sold out crowds even today, none will debate just how objectively bad every single frame is. So when James Franco, frequent director of unacclaimed adaptations of acclaimed American novels (The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Child of God) announced he would direct and star in a making of account of Wiseau’s seminal disasterpiece, the irony seemed rich. For his many attempts, Franco’s directorial career had proved a non-starter. So here we have a questionable filmmaker taking potshots at a certifiable artist of ineptitude.
Imagine my surprise when The Disaster Artist, one of 37 (!!!) of Franco’s directorial efforts, turned out to be so effortlessly funny, so spilling over with heart and such a loving tribute to its oft mocked star. Literally everything I expected of The Disaster Artist went out the window as the film Franco created began to crystalize. Without setting the bar too high to conceivably clear, Franco has found his niche: sincerity.
Playing the enigmatic filmmaker-that-wasn’t, Franco both caricaturizes Tommy Wiseau and cuts to the heart of what makes him such an endearing figure. Beneath the long skuzzy black hair, choppy laugh and total discomfort with an American football, Franco makes Tommy real, going beyond impression and finding the underlying humanity. His humor in the role cannot be understated (seriously, Franco was born for this) but the amount of humanity he injects into this wacky outsider may catch you off guard. Though undeniably talentless, Tommy’s capacity for kindness cannot be ignored.
When acting classmate Greg (Dave Franco) asks Tommy for advice after a display of “fearless” (read: horrendous) acting, Tommy takes him under his wing. Against the hesitation of Greg’s mom, the two move to LA, where Tommy has another apartment laying in wait so they can give this whole acting thing a go. An almost suspiciously giving man, Tommy even lets Greg sleep in the apartment’s single bedroom. He’ll sleep on the coach.
The film written by Scott Neudstadter and Michael H. Weber and based on the tell-all of the same name from The Room actor Greg Sestero and writer Tom Bissell explores the trickiness of navigating Hollywood’s insular community all through the lens of Tommy’s strange breed of narcism and can-do attitude and it makes for a whole new kind of Hollywood insider experience.
A riotous Seth Rogen is Sandy Schklair, a behind-the-scenes script supervisor Tommy paid a shiny penny to work with (who, by his own admission and The Disaster Artist’s description, more or less directed the film) and he provides a proxy for the audience into this batty making-of misadventure. Every time Tommy does something definitively insane, Sandy throws his hands in the air, the face of exasperation.
What remains unclear is just how much The Disaster Artist will do for those unfamiliar with The Room. Is this a piece of entertainment aimed towards a very specific subculture or will it prove accessible to a wider swatch of audiences? The answer may be both. Though who’ve seen the disaster art that is The Room will probably have a further appreciation for what Franco and Co. have created but a lack of familiarity is not a bar for entry as The Disaster Artist is a empathetic slice of weirdness that stands on its own merits. Unlike that which it is based on.
CONCLUSION: One of the funniest and most sincere making-of comedies to come out of Hollywood, The Disaster Artist finds James Franco and brother Dave Franco homaging the world’s worst movie with one of their bests.