Tommy Wiseau’s celebrated cult classic ‘The Room’ is known as — excuse the cliché — the Citizen Kane of Bad Movies. It is the pinnacle, the pièce de résistance of so-bad-it’s-good movies. Wiseau takes up quadruple duty as director, producer, writer and star, and ‘The Room’ is an unbearable melodrama about a love triangle, full of awkward line deliveries (“Oh, hi Mark!), awkward characters, and awkward sex scenes. Since it’s release in 2003, the film has been reborn as a comedy, and has been playing to sold out crowds at midnight screenings for over a decade. A film so bad raises the question: “How the hell did this ever get made?” That was answered by Greg Sestero (who played Mark) in his memoir, ‘The Disaster Artist’, which recounts his experience filming ‘The Room’; its big screen adaptation similarly takes us through the process and is, ironically, the dark horse of awards season.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor but is painfully shy – his timid, stilted performance in an acting class exercise leads his teacher to ask if he even wants to act. When the teacher calls for another student to perform, cue in Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) appearing out of nowhere from the back of the room like a hero coming in to save the day. He walks on, throws props, and climbs the rigging in cringe-comedic fashion — his teacher isn’t convinced. Greg thinks otherwise. He’s completely enchanted by Tommy’s bolstering confidence and approaches him for acting advice. They quickly become friends and move to Los Angeles to pursue their acting dreams – much to the chagrin of Greg’s mother, who is rightfully concerned that her son is driving off to Hollywood with a vampiric looking guy with a strange accent. When they struggle to book any roles, they decide to write their own, and thus ‘The Room’ is born.
On a surface level – and certainly as its biggest selling point — ‘The Disaster Artist’ is about the making of the best worst movie ever. The core of the film though, is the friendship of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero — polar opposites-turned-best friends brought together by circumstance, who go through ups and downs (but mostly downs) as they pursue their dreams together. The brotherly bond of James and Dave Franco bleeds into the relationship of Tommy and Greg, enhancing it to the point that their sense of supportive camaraderie is palpable. It’s impossible to not root for them, despite knowing the end result.
I will say that I have a weakness for movies about making movies, even though there’s an undertone of narcissism to it all. So, when the film segues to the making-of part, it is endlessly fascinating and entertaining. There are so many peculiarities to Tommy’s decisions as a director — shooting on both 35mm and digital, recreating real locations in a studio for no reason — and every time Seth Rogen’s script supervisor questioned him, I wanted to excuse it as, well, that’s just Tommy. The recreated scenes are also so much fun — I’m praying that the reported 20 minutes of recreated scenes make it to the DVD extras.
Tommy Wiseau is an elusive man: as brought up several times in the film, no one knows where he’s from, how old he is, or where his bottomless fortune comes from that allows him to independently finance a movie for $6 million. Everything about him is just plain weird, from his unknown accent to his fashion sense and penchant for multiple belts — and that is perfect acting fodder for James Franco, playing up this mysterious figure for all its comedic value. Franco is barely recognisable, embodying Wiseau impeccably, accent and all. But he also brings emotional vulnerability, portraying the man as more than just some big joke, but as someone with the inexorable drive to follow his dreams of making it in Hollywood. It would be a wonderfully hilarious turn of events if Franco won an Oscar (he’s already won a Gotham award), but I can’t argue that he isn’t at least worthy of a nomination.
For a film about the making of a bad movie, I can’t help but think ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a bit too pristine and professional. But that thought evaporated from my mind when I found myself crying from laughter. The New York Times did a profile on James Franco and Tommy Wiseau recently, and something that James said really struck me: When the movie was shown at SXSW, they were cheering on his story…I realised later it was probably the first time Tommy heard unironic applause, just for him.” After years of laughing at his misfortune without knowing his story, I’d also like to applaud him now, completely unironically.