I was working as an assistant locations manager on a small independent film when I first heard about The Room. Some of the crew had recently seen a midnight screening in Los Angeles and could not stop gushing over this astonishingly bad movie. By the time I actually saw the film, it had already begun to achieve cult movie status (the version I first saw included a Riff Trax commentary track featuring MST3K’s Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, which is pretty fantastic). Known as “the best worst movie ever made,” independent filmmaker Tommy Wiseau’s cinematic train wreck has transformed into this generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, with interactive costumed screenings still playing nearly fifteen years later.
Based on The Room co-star Greg Sestero’s book of the same same, The Disaster Artist chronicle’s Wiseau’s struggles to make it in Hollywood as an actor, his unusual friendship with Sestero, and the production of the doomed film. James Franco, who optioned the rights to the book, both directs and stars, and has crafted an immensely entertaining and incredibly engaging biopic that injects real humanity into the story of the famed filmmaker.
The film’s greatest strength comes from an incredible performance by Franco, who absolutely transforms into Wiseau. Once you settle into the spot-on imitation, you can begin to appreciate the complexity Franco brings to the role. Wiseau is portrayed as a man whose quirkiness, naivety and lack of any discernible talent are surpassed by his own stubborn stick-to-it·ive·ness. Fracno gives Tommy an insecurity that is simmering right below the surface (if it’s not erupting on everyone around him). Franco could have played him for laughs for the entirety of the film, but instead develops him into an incredibly sympathetic character. Expect to see Franco receive some nominations this award season.
There are some other really strong performances in the film as well. While the story focuses on Wiseau, the character is seen through the eyes of Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero. This gives the younger Franco the responsibility of carrying the emotional weight of the film, which he does quite nicely. Dave Franco’s real-life wife Allison Brie has a sizable role as Greg’s girlfriend, who acts as the rational side of his conscious, balancing out the irrational bromance he has with Tommy. Seth Rogen (who produced the film) and Paul Sheer portray The Room’s script supervisor and director of photography, respectively. What’s interesting about their roles is that while they are not necessarily written as funny, their reactions to the absurdness of the production of the film draws out the humor in the situation, providing many of the laughs in the film. They are essentially surrogates for the audience, pointing out gaping flaws in Tommy’s film making process.
The film is also peppered with some really nice performances by well known actors in smaller roles, including Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffin, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Ari Graynor, Hannibal Buress, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullay, Judd Apatow, Bob Odenkirk, and Bryan Cranston (as a Malcolm in the Middle era version of himself). There are also a fair amount of cameo appearances by other well-known celebrities, but I won’t ruin those for you here.
Do you have to see The Room to enjoy The Disaster Artist? Not at all. The film stands on its own as an interesting character study, as well as an underdog Hollywood story about following your dreams. However, those that have seen The Room will have an entirely different appreciation for this film (there is a pre-credits sequence which shows side by side comparisons of The Room and scenes of The Room re-shot for The Disaster Artist, and it’s pretty astounding, and worth the price of the admission alone). Franco, who is no stranger to taking chances, definitely gambled by adapting a book about the making of a terrible movie, but it has paid off in spades. The Disaster Artist is not one to be missed.