I think it’s safe to say that, along with The Last Jedi (2017) and Get Out (2017), one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year has been James Franco’s adaptation of The Disaster Artist. The book, in case you’re not one of the many people who follow this information religiously, is about actor Greg Sestero’s experience making The Room (2003) and his friendship with the infamous Tommy Wiseau, the “mystery, wrapped in an enigma.” While I haven’t read the book myself, the contents of which Wiseau describes as being “40% accurate,” the story that Sestero decided to share is a really telling one, describing not only the inevitable frustrations that came with the making of one of the worst movies of all time but some of the intimate details behind his friendship with Tommy. While Wiseau’s film has certainly united many people in laughter, Sestero’s behind the scenes story happened to resonate with James Franco enough to the point where he decided to make a movie about it with frequent collaborator Seth Rogen. What we’re given from their efforts is a film that speaks volumes about the power of friendship, art, and the passion of the artists that make it.
Interestingly, the film’s protagonist Greg Sestero is played by James Franco’s real life brother, Dave, who is also a prominent actor in the biz. Dave nails his role perfectly, portraying Greg’s actor side as someone who is meek and hesitant to put himself out there and his real-life side as a likeable and charismatic bachelor. Tommy and Greg consider themselves brothers in real life, and the palpable chemistry Dave and James share is the kind that could only exist between two brothers who have both struggled to make it into show business. Tommy helping Greg grow as an actor and person and Greg endeavoring to stay a loyal friend to the one person who would bother to help him is the heart of the story and it’s exactly as good as it has to be. However even if you stay for the friendship and tribulation, but you most certainly come for the Tommy.
Everyone under the sun has at least seen a clip from The Room and can do a Tommy Wiseau impression (I’m sure you’ve already done a couple in your head after merely reading the name Tommy Wiseau). James taking on the role of Tommy was by no means a Herculean task, but his meticulous effort to get every single mannerism and inflection correct is ever-present on screen, and it’s a guaranteed good time that’s more than worth the price of admission. It’s impossible not to laugh at anything Wiseau does, but you also can’t help but feel bad for someone who not only succeeded at making a feature film but who genuinely thought he was doing a good job at it. Admittedly, you can tell that you’re looking at Franco on screen sometimes, but this is mostly in medium shots where he’s looking straight at you and you can look into his eyes. 80% of the time though, he is fully immersed in the role.
I think my biggest motivation to read The Disaster Artist now is to truly see just how much of a mess the making of The Room was. Seth Rogen inserts himself in the film as the on-set script supervisor and ends up being an almost fourth wall-breaking audience conduit, pondering to fellow crew member Raphael (Paul Scheer) about on-set frustrations and all the weird creative decisions Wiseau made that every The Room viewer has made jokes about ad nauseum. Granted, I may have found this a bit distracting since I have seen The Room already, but I saw this film with a friend who hadn’t seen The Room before and he didn’t seem to mind it at all, so if you’re one of those outliers who still hasn’t seen The Room then you thankfully won’t be left out on the joke.
At it’s heart, The Disaster Artist is meant to be an inspirational film. A scene that stood out for me is when the older female actress that plays Lisa’s mother in The Room (Jacki Weaver) is talking to the other actors during a lunch break after she passed out from heat exhaustion as a result of Wiseau’s incompetence. Everyone is asking her the simple question of “why she does it,” especially considering she has to drive hours to get to set and spend so much time away from her husband. She simply responds “I’m an actor, it’s what we do,” and goes on to explain how she relishes every second she gets to work on a movie set. It’s really endearing to see so many people passionate about what they do and put their all into it, even if they have terrible leadership or are just plain terrible at it themselves, in the case of Tommy Wiseau. Sure, he didn’t intend to fail upwards as it were, but he and Greg had a passion and goal of making it in the movie business outside of Hollywood and that’s exactly what happened. Passion can get you anywhere, and I’m sure that passion resonates with the people that pay money for midnight viewings of The Room. Seeing the story of The Disaster Artist unfold onscreen speaks to the testament of not only those who dream of “making it” in the movie business but also those who have dreams of any kind, and by simply letting the story unfold and speak for itself Franco succeeds in reminding the world – through Tommy Wiseau – that you can be terrible at anything but you will succeed as long as you have undying passion and friendship to back you up.
The story of The Disaster Artist is executed exactly as it needed to be, with hilarious recreations of The Room for long time fans and an emotional yet comedic journey of failure-to-success for general audiences. While there are many cameos from recognizable faces giving their regards to a film that has brought them and so many others unbridled joy, the film is strongly headed by the chemistry between the Franco brothers. While maybe a little too much time is given to theories about Tommy Wiseau’s origins (something that is still not known to this day) and what motivated his writing of The Room, it is still molded well enough into the story to give you a satisfying experience with the friendship that led to the creation of one of the worst films of all time.