In 2003, a film called “The Room” was unleashed upon the world. Written, directed, and produced by Tommy Wiseau (who also stared in it), constructed a “romantic drama” about Johnny (Wiseau) and his fiancé, Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who live a happy life. She soon begins cheating on Johnny with his best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), which jeopardizes her and Johnny’s relationship. What Wiseau gave us was a film that was one of the best so-bad-it’s-good movies ever, developing a huge cult following and spawning countless midnight screenings for fans. It’s one of those movie where, as you’re watching it, you keep thinking to yourself that there isn’t anyway that a movie like this could exist, which soon leads you to question your reality and sanity.
Ten years later, Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell (who wrote about “The Room” in the August 2010 issue of “Harper’s Magazine”) released “The Disaster Artist,” a memoir about the making of the film. What the duo gives readers is a hilarious and surprisingly emotional account of what went into making one of the worst movies ever made.
Now, James Franco directs and stars in this comedy-drama, bringing the bonkers, see-it-to-believe-it true story to the big screen. While it doesn’t go quite as in-depth as the source material, there’s still a fun time to be had while watching Wiseau’s “success” unfold.
In 1998, aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in a drama class in San Francisco. After becoming friends, they decide to move to Los Angeles to break into show business. Following several unsuccessful auditions, Tommy decides to make his own movie with Greg. What results is the oddest underdog story in Hollywood history.
Watching James Franco portray Tommy Wiseau is one of the great joys you’ll have at the movies this season. He delivers a phenomenal performance and masters Wiseau’s unidentifiable accent and strange behavior. If you’ve seen “The Room” or Wiseau doing interviews, you know how there isn’t another person like him on Earth, so strange and otherworldly is his presence. It’s a personality that requires considerable talent to pull off, and Franco succeeds. But, despite it being a mostly humorous performance, Franco is able to dig into the dramatic side of his character and show Wiseau’s need for acceptance in a society that continues to shut him out, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him because of how persistent he is in trying to become a star.
Although James Franco looks more like Tommy than Dave Franco does Greg, having these brothers portray them benefits the relationship between the two characters because the natural sibling bond of the Francos brings the friendship of their characters to realization on screen. Their chemistry is effortless, and this strong connection helps to elevate the more-dramatic scenes between these characters, showing us the toll that their friendship begins to have on them.
While the supporting cast does fine with their roles, one of the most memorable is Zac Efron as Dan Janjigian, who plays drug-dealer Chris-R in “The Room.” What’s funny about the casting of “The Room” is how Janjigian wasn’t even pursuing an acting career, but was recommended for the part by his roommate (also named Dan), who was originally supposed to play Mark. Janjigian ended up giving the best performance in “The Room,” and he only had one scene. That intensity he brought to the role (which was much more than “The Room” deserved) is displayed by Efron as his character tries to pump himself up for his scene, and it becomes one of the most memorable in the film.
The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber would have benefitted from being about half an hour longer to show more of the bonkers on-set mishaps of the troubled production and a few scenes that deepen the relationship between Tommy and Greg (I would have sat through a three-hour version of this movie). However, what we do get to see is enjoyable enough to make this a serviceable adaptation.
One of the most fascinating aspects of “The Disaster Artist” is some films with which it shares some comparisons. There’s a bit of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in it, with Tommy and Greg being akin to Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley and Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf, respectively. There are also some likenesses to “Sunset Boulevard,” with Tommy sharing the qualities of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, someone who’ll stop at nothing to be in front of the film cameras. Sestero and Bissell begin each chapter of the book with quotes from these two movies, so if you’ve seen either of these films, your experience watching “The Disaster Artist” will be a little richer. However, the movie to which “The Disaster Artist” is a soulmate is Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood,” part of which chronicles the infamous director as he makes “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” another film that’s considered to be one of the worst ever made.
It’s appropriate to have James Franco star and direct “The Disaster Artist,” seeing as Wiseau did the same for “The Room.” By having Franco do this, it’s evident that he has a love for this story and wants to capture not only the spirit of the source material, but the spirit of how it must have felt on set, given how Franco directed “The Disaster Artist” in character as Tommy. Through Franco’s commitment, you can sense that he wants to bring us as much of the book’s zaniness as he can.
As a director, Franco uses cinematography from Brandon Trost that employs a documentary style of filmmaking in the portions of the movie that take place on the set of “The Room.” With this, we get a strong behind-the-scenes feel when watching these sequences play out, and you feel the same level of delightful absurdity that you experience while viewing “The Room.”
Although Wiseau didn’t have any creative talent, what makes this movie a joy to watch is that we see how his passion for acting and filmmaking helped him achieve his dream of being discovered. In the end, “The Disaster Artist” is a weirdly inspirational story because of how Wiseau defied all of the odds to bring his vision to life, no matter how misguided it might have been.