It’s fascinating, and deliciously ironic, that a terrific movie such as The Disaster Artist has as its subject one of the worst movies ever made, The Room. (No, not the Brie Larson Oscar winner; that was simply Room.) With the deft touch of James Franco as actor and director, and a brilliant script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist is a perfect marriage of humor and ineptitude that’s unexpectedly and surprisingly magnificent.
In July of 1998, aspiring actors Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, James’ brother) meet at a San Francisco acting class. Greg is drawn to Tommy’s lack of inhibition, while Tommy sees an opportunity for a friend. They bond. Turns out Tommy has money, so they move to Tommy’s place in L.A. to break into showbiz. When it doesn’t go well, they decide to make their own movie. That movie, in all its incompetent grandeur, is The Room (2003), which is now considered “the greatest bad movie ever made” because of its DVD popularity and cult following. The Disaster Artist is about the making of The Room and it pulls no punches (it’s based on a book of the same name by Sestero and Tom Bissell).
For example, there’s a moment in which Tommy is asked if he plans to shoot in 35 mm or HD. “Both,” he says impractically, as there’s no reason to record the film in two different formats. Later, as the lead actor, he reacts with laughter after Greg’s character discusses an abused woman. “It’s human behavior,” he insists, and no one can talk him out of it, especially given that he’s paying the bills. From the start it’s clear that Tommy thinks he’s well versed in human nature, what people want to see, and filmmaking, but really has no idea how woefully ignorant he is in all regards.
Importantly, though, The Disaster Artist is not mean-spirited. Rather than mocking Wiseau, it seems to embrace Wiseau and the cult status of The Room, much in the same way the real Wiseau and Sestero do today. Yes we laugh at Wiseau’s lack of sense at times, but it never feels condescending. James Franco’s performance is essential for this, as he embodies Tommy’s poor diction and mannerisms with an earnest, good-natured likeability. “It’s Los Angeles, everybody want to be a star,” Tommy says early on, and you realize there’s a child-like innocence about him that suggests he doesn’t know any better. Thus we like Tommy even though we’re constantly shaking our head at him, and because we like him, the entire movie thrives.
To be sure, The Room is terrible. It’s one of the few films I haven’t been able to finish, and I sat through all five Twilight movies. But because of Wiseau and Sestero’s compliance (both have cameos in the film!), The Disaster Artist is able to be a guilt-free, off the wall riot. It’s probably an Oscar contender as well, so see it, and then if you’re feeling frisky, try to sit through The Room too.