There’s something strangely beautiful about “so bad it’s good” movies. We all have one we can’t get enough of. The Room, Birdemic, Troll 2, Plan 9 from Outer Space, these movies have all built enormous fanbases despite how objectively awful they are. Better yet, they’ve built these fanbases BECAUSE of how objectively awful they are. But why? What separates a movie like Birdemic from a movie like Suicide Squad? Why does the former have a devoted cult following while the other is looked at in disdain?
Put simply, it’s because of passion. Suicide Squad‘s studio meddling and reshoots are apparent throughout and make the film feel more like a product of Hollywood greed more than anything. But while a movie like The Room may have terrible sets, dialogue, acting, and camerawork, you can genuinely see Tommy Wiseau’s passion throughout. And that’s what The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring James Franco, excels at conveying. The passion behind filmmaking, and the chaos that went behind the making of this film in particular.
For those that don’t know about The Room, I’ll try and sum it up in about two paragraphs. The Room is a film released in 2003 written by, directed by, and starring an other-wordly man named Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau funded the film’s release by himself and worked on it with his close friend, Greg Sestero. The Room followed the story of a man named Johnny (Wiseau), whose happy and successful life is turned upside-down after his best friend Mark (Sestero) takes part in an affair with his fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle). The film was shot over six months and finally released on June 27th, 2003.
Almost immediately, the film was mocked and shunned for its terrible acting, inconsistent story, cringe-inducing dialogue, and its bizarre mastermind, Tommy Wiseau. Costing roughly $6 million total to produce, the movie ended up being a box office failure as well, only raking in $1,800 during it’s initial run in theaters. Despite this, over the next ten years, the film gained a devoted cult following that loved it for it’s flaws. The Room‘s popularity grew even more upon the release of The Disaster Artist in 2013, a memoir by Greg Sestero following his friendship with Wiseau and the process behind making the movie. The book itself was so successful that in 2014, Seth Rogen and James Franco purchased the rights to make it into a film. A film about the backstory and making-of one of the worst films of all time.
Cut to three years later and The Disaster Artist is finally with us in theaters. Starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau and his younger brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestero, the film closely adapts the book in that it follows a younger, more naive Greg Sestero and his strange relationship with Wiseau as they embark on making The Room. So has this incredibly anticipated adaption lived up to expectations? Not only has it lived up to the hype, but at the time of writing this review, the film stands as my absolute favorite of 2017.
One thing to note about the trailers for The Disaster Artist is that it markets itself as a comedy with dramatic elements to it. Many critics have actually proclaimed this to be the funniest film from Rogen and Franco yet. And while I absolutely adore this film, I could not disagree more. Don’t get me wrong, the comedy is there. The dialogue and performances provide more than their fair share of laughs. But what I loved the most about this film was just how much more it was. Much like the book, The Disaster Artist isn’t just funny, it’s uplifting, inspirational, tragic, dramatic, depressing, stressful, infuriating, confusing, and more. I would argue that the film has no consistent tone, and if it does, it most certainly isn’t straight up comedic.
But while typically a lack of consistency would be considered a flaw for any movie, the constantly changing nature of The Disaster Artist only works in its favor. Inconsistency is ironically the most consistent part of life. The best, and worst thing about life is that’s it’s CONSTANTLY changing, and so are the people around you. And there’s nothing you can do to change it. This is part of what make’s Sestero’s friendship with Wiseau so engaging, just how unpredictable Tommy himself is. And if you’ve seen videos with Wiseau, you’ll totally see what I mean.
Now as I mentioned above, James Franco not only directs the film, he also plays Tommy Wiseau. His performance has been the most talked about aspect of the movie so far, and for good reason. Tommy Wiseau is such a remarkably unique example of a human being. He manages to be the most uncomfortably awkward yet fearless person I’ve ever seen. His confidence in his talent, appearance, and personality have separated him from other cult film directors like Ed Wood, Claudio Fragasso, and James Nguyen. And also unlike those directors, rather than constantly fight the title of “Worst Movie of All Time”, Wiseau alternates between either embracing it or ignoring it. It’s never upset him, at least publicly. He attends almost every showing, takes part in viral videos using his weirdness, and seemingly loves the happy confusion audiences experience when watching The Room. He doesn’t care if they think it’s good, what matters to him is that they’re having a good time. This is why the film opens on a series of interviews with actors and directors who have seen The Room, Wiseau is special, and they took great care to make sure he knew it. I was touched and elated to see the effort this movie made to make sure it wasn’t just a cheap mockery of Wiseau.
Now I imagine that Franco’s job here was much more difficult than some may think. To portray a real person, it’s important that you get down to the sheer basics of them. Once you have those, you can use them as sort of a vessel to help guide you throughout each scene. The trouble with this particular role however is that it’s almost impossible to break down Wiseau into only his basics. As I mentioned above, he’s almost indescribable. What makes this more difficult is Wiseau’s shrouded history. If you weren’t aware, one of the most notable things about Tommy Wiseau is that his entire past is a mystery. Nobody knows for sure how old he is, where he’s from, or how he came upon his apparent endless fortune that allowed him to fund The Room in the first place. Not even Greg Sestero has a solid knowledge of Tommy’s past. This secret history probably only made it more difficult for Franco to fully capture Wiseau’s personality, but despite all of this, he manages to nail the performance. While Franco is on screen throughout the majority of the film, much like the real Wiseau, he always feels fleeting. Every conversation Sestero has with Wiseau in the film feels more like an event, or some kind of surreal experience, rather than a conversation between two characters.
What I enjoyed the most about Franco’s portrayal, however, was that more than his eccentricity, Franco brings out the tragedy, loneliness, desperation, and ignorance of Wiseau. Tommy Wiseau is weird as hell in this movie, yes, But we also see his jealousy for the other relationships in Sestero’s life, his delusion while others tell him what a mess the movie is, his struggle while trying to find his own path for success, and his sadness. His sadness permeates throughout his entire performance, though much like Wiseau himself, it’s always left a mystery as to why he’s sad. It’s sometimes speculated or hinted at, and he does at one point tell Greg a story of a near-fatal car accident, but in the end we never know for sure why that sadness lingers with Tommy. This is what makes Franco’s performance standout from just another Tommy Wiseau impression. We’re not seeing him reenact scenes from The Room for two hours, we’re seeing him portray a man that is as troubled as he is strange and mysterious. This portrayal leaves me confident that James Franco deserves a Best Actor nomination, and even award, from every major movie awards show at the end of this film season. I have yet to see Daniel Day Lewis in The Phantom Thread, though I can already say that he faces tough competition against Franco.
As for the other performances in the film, unfortunately, while none of them disappoint, none come anywhere near James. Dave Franco as Greg Sestero is by no means disappointing. I’ve seen many critics and fans compare The Disaster Artist to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood from 1994. Now I would only half agree with this comparison. On one hand, yes, it is quite similar in that both films follow the struggles of two delusional men to make their wildest movie visions come true, with both ending up become cult legends. However, the similarities honestly end there, and it’s because of one crucial difference. Ed Wood follows the story of director Ed Wood from his perspective throughout the entire film. You get to see his struggle firsthand, from his point of view. But while Tommy Wiseau is by far the most memorable aspect of The Disaster Artist, the movie is still based on Greg Sestero’s book, and thus the film takes place from his perspective. While never quite reaching the level his brother stays at in the film, Dave Franco still captures the naivety and frustration of Sestero. You can genuinely sympathize for him throughout the movie when you see the patience he maintains, and the shocking sacrifices he makes to help keep Wiseau’s dream alive. Greg acts as sort of a bridge between the real world and Tommy, and it is because of Greg that Tommy is able to achieve what he does. So even though it may not be as memorable, Dave’s performance is nevertheless incredibly enjoyable, faithful, and important to the film’s structure and meaning.
Other appearances include Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Nathan Fielder, and cameos from actors such as Zac Efron and Bryan Cranston. Aside from them having an incredible amount of talent, for me it was more beautiful than anything to think that the making of one of the so-called worst movies of all time would assemble such a notable and beloved cast. It really helps make this movie seem more like a love letter to The Room, not hate mail.
The story told in The Disaster Artist is timeless. Two friends with a common goal come together and risk everything to make their dreams come true. We’ve seen it countless times, but never like this. What sets this story apart from the rest are it’s heroes. It would be hard to find a more unlikely and strange pair of friends in film. At times you forget that the movie is even about the making of this cult classic, and you’re just immersed in this story of two struggling actors who want to take Hollywood into their own hands. In the movie, Greg and Tommy make a promise to always support each other, push each other, and never, ever let each other give up. This promise of undying persistence and loyalty serves as a message of inspiration for all who see it. But as Greg said in the novel, it also serves as a warning. The rewards of following your dreams can be unparalleled, but so can the stress and consequences sometimes. Tommy and Greg risk everything to make The Room, and even though they’ve achieved worldwide notoriety, it’s important to note that they almost lost everything too. Including each other.
But it all comes back to the one thing they had throughout the entire movie, passion. It all comes back to passion. Passion is what made them move to LA to pursue their dreams. Passion is what kept them from giving up and convinced them to make their own movie. Passion is what kept them going throughout the entire filmmaking process, despite the chaos. And passion is what kept The Room from being just another horribly made indie movie released in theaters. That passion clearly still exists in Tommy and Greg today, and it’s what lead to their story getting told for the whole world to see. You don’t need to see The Room to enjoy The Disaster Artist, because ultimately that’s not what The Disaster Artist is about. It’s about independence, struggle, self-fulfillment, ambition, and above all else, friendship.
The Disaster Artist Is Now Playing Theaters