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 just 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 confluence of humor and ineptitude that’s unexpectedly and surprisingly magnificent.
In July 1998, aspiring actors Tommy Wiseau (Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, James’ bro) meet at a San Francisco acting class. Greg is drawn to Tommy’s lack of inhibition; 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 that doesn’t happen, they decide to make their own movie. That movie, in all its incompetent grandeur, is The Room (2003), now considered “the greatest bad movie ever made” due to its DVD popularity and cult following. The Disaster Artist is about the making of The Room, based on a book of the same name by Sestero and Tom Bissell, and it pulls no punches.
There’s a moment when Tommy is asked if he plans to shoot in 35mm or HD. “Both,” he says; impractically, as there’s no reason to record in two different formats. Later, as 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 since he’s paying the bills. From the start it’s clear Tommy thinks he’s well-versed in human nature, what people want to see and filmmaking, but he really has no idea how woefully ignorant he is in all regards.
It’s important, though, to see The Disaster Artist is not mean-spirited. Rather than mocking Wiseau, it seems to embrace the odd man and the cult status of The Room, in much the same way Wiseau and Sestero do today. Yes, we laugh at Wiseau’s lack of sense at times, but it doesn’t feel unkind. 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 star,” Tommy says early on, and you see his childlike innocence that suggests he doesn’t know any better. So we like him even though we’re constantly shaking our head at him, and because we like him, the entire movie works.
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!), The Disaster Artist is able to be a guilt-free, off-the-wall riot. It’s probably an Oscar-contender, so see it and then, if you’re feeling frisky, try to sit through The Room, too.