To call The Room simply a guilty pleasure, or a midnight movie, or “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” does a disservice to one of the most confounding film of all time. As several celebrity admirers state at the beginning of The Disaster Artist, some of the greatest directors of our generation could never make a film like The Room. It’s not good, but it’s not garbage, it’s a complete mental restructuring of what makes a film successful and worthwhile. Yet it’s not the film itself that has made The Room a new cult classic since its release almost a decade and a half ago. It’s the culture and spirit that has been created around the film. The Room is an experience unlike any other trip to the movies, filled with people playing football in tuxedos and plastic spoons thrown at the screen. It is an unusual trip into the mind of Tommy Wiseau, a man of unknown origins and wealth, who may or may not also be a vampire/alien.
The Disaster Artist – which chronicles the making of The Room – doesn’t attempt to reconsider The Room as an unheralded masterpiece, or Wiseau as the Ed Wood of a new generation. Instead The Disaster Artist smartly tells a story of ambition and dedication, and the joy that viewing a film like The Room can give. The unexpected success of The Room and Wiseau’s rise to popularity through his film is far more fascinating than anything Wiseau could’ve written, and The Disaster Artist taps into the beauty of what The Room actually mean to its audiences.
Based on the excellent book of the same name written by The Room star Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist tells the story of the friendship between Wiseau (James Franco) and Sestero (Dave Franco). They first meet at an acting class where Wiseau shows absolutely no restraint through a scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” while Sestero can’t muster any confidence for his performance. Needing a boost of Wiseau’s spirit, Sestero asks if he can be his next scene partner and a friendship is immediately struck up. The two soon decide to go full force towards their dream and move to Hollywood together with the hopes of becoming actors. After a stream of fruitless auditions and lost opportunities, the fed up Wiseau decides to write his own film, the apparently autobiographical The Room.
Directed by Franco and co-written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, 500 Days of Summer), the film nicely works for audiences very familiar with The Room and those who have never heard of it. Franco – through his directing and impeccable performance – channels the unhumanlike mannerisms and decisions of Wiseau as actor, filmmaker, and person. Even for those ignorant of “oh hi Mark” can enjoy the weirdness of this uncharacteristic film production. But obviously, The Disaster Artist is for the fans of The Room, who will catch the many slight references throughout to the most microscopic details.
The heart of The Room and The Disaster Artist is Wiseau, who Franco brings to life with shocking perfection. This isn’t simply an impression, but Franco gets to the core of why people care so much about Wiseau. There’s a deep sadness to Wiseau that he tries his best to portray The Room, and Franco lets that permeate through his performance. Franco’s Wiseau is a man that hides the truth from the world, because it seems as if his openness in the past as only hurt him irreversibly. Franco creates in Wiseau a character that is endlessly hilarious in his odd ways, but a person whose misdirected determination the audience wants to see rewarded.
The Disaster Artist’s biggest problem comes in casting, where every character is played by a the perfect choice from the actual world of Hollywood, yet sometimes feels like a community theatre putting on a show. It’s hard not to see Nathan Fielder, Jacki Weaver, and Josh Hutcherson all in a scene together and not notice the many layers of artifice going on.
Franco, Neustadter, and Weber present The Disaster Artist as a quest for greatness, even if it’s not in exactly the way one would expect, with a deft hand and a beauty that makes it quite the touching film. Wiseau is a man who gave everything he could to find success and put his story on the screen, no matter what the cost, and that reach for glory makes The Disaster Artist far more than just an homage to one of cinema’s greatest blunders. Franco makes Wiseau and the story of The Room a layered wonder to behold, and gives one of the best performances of the year, and one of the finest comedies in some time. The Disaster Artist could’ve easily torn Wiseau apart, but instead, it beautifully gets to the core of what makes the shared experience of The Room a singular shared movie experience.