Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is possibly the most watched and discussed independent American film of the 2000s. In our irony-obsessed age, that doesn’t mean it’s good though. Far from it. The magnum opus by the mysterious Wiseau is arguably the worst movie ever made and one that achieved cult status from those who gleefully giggle away at it’s ineptitude. Wiseau has emerged as an odd pop culture icon out of the wreckage of The Room and it’s behind the scenes tales that grew into Internet folklore. It was almost inevitable someone would make a movie about him. Thankfully, that movie isn’t some sneering doc chasing around an eccentric like a snickering stalker, but a bizarrely committed biopic directed by and starring James Franco. The Disaster Artist offers everything anyone could want out of a movie about Tommy Wiseau and then somehow also manages to be a sweet movie that makes you feel for the misfit at the center. It shouldn’t have been possible, especially with Franco apparently directing his bio in character as Wiseau the entire time. Yet somehow this movie exists and it’s kind of a miracle.
So for those who don’t already know, the script comes from a book by Greg Sestero who co-starred with Tommy in The Room as Mark—as in, “Oh hi Mark.” So Greg is the protagonist and in an almost inexplicably perfect bit of casting is played by James’ brother Dave Franco. They meet in an acting class where Greg is the only student impressed by the strange man wearing a variety of belts screaming out a Marlon Brando impersonation. Greg’s not so great at the whole acting thing and goes to Tommy for help. A deeply weird friendship forms. Greg learns that Tommy has a mysteriously vast fortune from an unknown place. They become roommates in Los Angeles to pursue acting and when Tommy’s attempts to crack into the business are met with nothing but the harshest of rejections, he decides to write, direct, and self-finance a movie for both of them. It’s called The Room and if you have any interest in the cult of this notorious stinker, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where things go from there.
The Disaster Artist nimbly checks off everything that one would expect from a movie about The Room. We see Tommy inexplicably insist on shooting with two cameras at once, insist on shooting endless sex scenes starring himself, and just generally confuse the hell out of everyone around him at all times. We never get any answers to where the guy came from, how he has so much money to burn, or…you know…what’s wrong with him because no one knows the answers to those questions other than Tommy Wiseau and he’s an unreliable witness at best. There are all the required giggles crammed. But what impresses most about James Franco’s take on the trash culture icon as both an actor and filmmaker is how warm and caring it is. This isn’t a freak show lynching. It clearly comes from a certain place of respect and even awe.
Anyone who’s thought about The Room for more than a few consecutive seconds has likely worked out that the movie is a somewhat autobiographical attempt to express inner angst and pain from someone who has no sense of how to tell a story or shoot a movie. Franco presents Wiseau as a mystery, but also a human. He’s a guy whose constantly questioned and misunderstood. Someone with no real friends and a burning desire to be an artist regardless of whether or not he succeeds. Franco clearly somewhat admires Tommy in an odd way and presents him not merely as a punchline, but a strangely tragic antihero. His impression of the odd accent and odder movements of Wiseau is dead on, yet beneath that is someone in pain desperately seeking acceptance without the social skills to connect. It’s a hilarious and heartbreaking performance that’s one of Franco’s best and the movie surrounding it is rather wonderful as well.
In the relationship between Greg and Tommy, the Francos create a beautifully fraught friendship. Greg clearly likes Tommy despite all the horrors of making their movie and Tommy clearly made the movie for Greg despite the fact that all the actor would receive for his troubles was notoriety. It’s sweet and dark and weird and funny and fascinating and if nothing else, a buddy movie unlike any other. Surrounding the Francos are a murderous row of LA comedians and The Room fans like Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Judd Apatow, and Bryan Cranston—playing himself because yep, somehow Cranston had direct connection to The Room. Everyone clearly did this one for fun and squeeze out extra laughs from the sidelines without distracting from the movie itself. Franco shoots his film with a slick unobtrusive style and recreates scenes from The Room with an almost Kubrickian attention to detail. It takes a talented filmmaker to make beautifully bad filmmaking into comedy gold and clearly Franco has the goods.
Would The Disaster Artist work for someone with no knowledge of The Room or appreciation for “so bad, it’s good” entertainment? Tough to say. It’s unlikely anyone will come close to this thing without knowing the origins. But, it’s possible. This is such a bizarre human story centred around such a fascinating central character that it’s gotta have trainwreck entertainment value for even those who don’t know Tommy Wiseau from Ed Wood. Still, it’s not like The Disaster Artist will reach a crossover crowd. This is a flick made by and for members of the cult of The Room. It’s far better than anyone could have imagined and the fact that James Franco does some of the finest work of his career as both a performer and director while embodying the worst filmmaker of all time is a delightful meta joke cherry on the sundae that’s likely funnier to Franco than anyone else. The Disaster Artist has cult classic written all over it. Sure, there likely won’t be regular midnight screenings held for The Disaster Artist like The Room, but this will be a flick adored by anyone who falls down the Tommy Wiseau rabbit hole from now on. That’s a good thing.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!
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