Director: James Franco
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver
Runtime: 105 Minutes
To those unfamiliar with The Room, it’s a 2003 film that eventually entered a widely regarded status as being one of the worst films ever made. Incomprehensible on a narrative, structural, character and visual level – never mind the astonishingly inept screenplay, performances and technical direction – it entered cult status as a mainstay of midnight screenings as audiences around the world began to discover and embrace the movie for all its worst qualities, and come together in an ironic celebration of its hilariously infamous construction.
The genius behind this truly insane work is the mysterious and fascinatingly strange Tommy Wiseau; a man whose background and origin is unknown, whose tastes are bizarre, and whose sense of humour and dress style is as outrageous as his mannerisms and strange pronunciation of the English language.
The Disaster Artist is James Franco’s adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell's non-fiction book of the same name, a memoir of Sestero’s enduring friendship with Wiseau and his experience behind the scenes of the production of The Room. This movie about the making of a movie, beyond being one of the funniest films of the year, is also as truthful a depiction of the creative process and the struggle for success in Hollywood than any produced in recent years.
Make no mistake though; what we have here is essentially a multimillion dollar fan film, complete with references and fan service laden call backs to the notorious low-key production. Director and star James Franco’s own personal tribute to a unique pop culture oddity with the backing his many close colleagues, friends in the industry and his younger brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestero.
Franco the elder takes it upon himself to play the role of Tommy Wiseau, and if there’s one reason to see the film beyond a general interest in the subject matter then its Franco’s performance. Hidden beneath convincing facial prosthetics and a hideously unbridled mane of black hair, this is a frighteningly accurate imitation of Wiseau. It’s a dark, eccentric, hilarious and occasionally heart-rending role, and he has dedicated every nuance and twitch to recreating an unpredictable and wildly unnatural real life presence.
The film positions itself with Greg as we see is journey to Los Angeles with Tommy and their quest to finish the production while he grapples with Tommy’s increasingly outlandish behaviour. Through Greg we are shown the best of Tommy, and his earnest understandings of the world shines through his broken perception of it all. We worry about him and his total lack of onset professionalism and unknown source of funding (which is never explained, but that’s beyond the point).
What works best about the film beyond its brilliant performances – from a roster that includes Seth Rogen and Zac Efron amongst other cameos – is a very well-balanced screenplay that invites laughter toward the absurdity of the entire production as much as it wants to paint a sincere expression of the toils of creative endeavours. As little sense as The Room might make to us and everyone else involved in making it, it fits perfectly into Tommy’s bizarre philosophy of living his life in the moment. Its invested and spellbound by how such an odd mind could conceive of something so fundamentally broken and yet be so satisfied with it for what it has become.
There are some occasional missteps here and there that leave the film feeling a little shabby but modest. It draws itself out in the third act with a more sluggish pace to the rest of the picture. Even though there’s a plethora of material to work with in the original text, the efforts to streamline the story and events and maintain a more singular minded narrative focus leaves it feeling like there should be more going on as it races for the sequence involving The Room’s premier. Also, Alison Brie is given nothing to do and no character to work with as Greg’s girlfriend Amber, which is sad considering that the conflict she insights between the friends is so central to their third act breakdown.
Quibbles aside – as well as some overindulgent acts of showmanship at having perfectly recreated the staging of the original production – for the most part The Disaster Artist is a damn fine piece of work. It’s a labour of love even for what feels like a glorified fan film, a brutal but touching insight into the ferocity of the lower rungs of Hollywood, and the best depiction of the authentic intentions behind so-bad-it’s-good movies since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.