An aspiring actor in Hollywood meets an enigmatic stranger by the name of Tommy Wiseau, the meeting leads the actor down a path nobody could have predicted; creating the worst movie ever made.
A film based on the making of The Room has the whiff of a late night drunken conversation gone too far. Does the world need a film exploring the production of Tommy Wiseau's inadvertent cult classic? A chat fueled by too many beers would suggest that's a great idea, but in the sober light of day? In his new film The Disaster Artist, director James Franco (with his 30th screen credit as director) has turned the jokey concept of a movie about The Room into an accessible comedy that is up there with the best movies of the year.
While mainstream modern audiences will often look to the try-hard Sharknado as their go-to reference for 'the worst movie ever made', hipper audiences are very familiar with The Room. Often described as the 'Citizen Kane of bad movies', the film was written, directed, and produced by Tommy Wiseau, with the first-time auteur also starring in the main role. Wiseau likened himself to being a modern Tennessee Williams with his story about a woman that cheats on the protagonist he plays in the film, with his best friend.
While the film initially came and went with very little interest from the world at large, it found an audience at revival cinemas where the film has received Rocky Horror Picture Show-like regular screenings with the audience encouraged to shout out catch-phrases, throw plastic spoons at the screen, and dress in tuxedos to play American football games in the aisles of the cinema. Sydney cinema the Hayden Orpheum has had five years of monthly screenings of The Room. Sessions are almost always sold-out.
Director James Franco, who also stars as the impossible-to-believe-this-guy-actually-exists Tommy Wiseau, surprises with The Disaster Artist. It would be easy to play up the absurd demeanour of Wiseau to play off him for maximum laughs, but Franco's film takes it that step further. Yes, Wiseau is an odd guy with limited social grace, but Franco amplifies what makes Wiseau such an appealing figure. The intensity of Wiseau's passion is intoxicating. Yes, his passion is directed in the wrong place creatively every time, but it never stops being inspiring.
Male friendships have often been at the core of comedies starring James Franco. Here he has cast his brother Dave Franco in the role of Sestero, giving their relationship an immediate air of familiarity. The film charts the corruption of their relationship as Sestero's wide-eyed loyalty to his friend is routinely tested by Wiseau's self-sabotage. Eventually it leads to the production of Wiseau's movie, which brings every stress in their friendship to the foreground.
Also joining the Franco brothers on screen is a who's who of hip American comedy with Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Jason Mantzoukas, Casey Wilson, Hannibal Buress, Paul Scheer, and John Early among the many making appearances in the film. Australian actor Jacki Weaver also has a memorable turn as an enthusiastic performer who bravely embraces Wiseau's terrible script.
The obvious point of comparison for this film is Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood. Both films explore the passion of a filmmaker known for making a terrible film, but that's actually where the comparison stops being relevant. While Edward D Wood Jr built around him a loyal film crew and company of actors, Wiseau never ceases to let his own passion and self-interest to get in the way of relationships with other people. His only friend is a young 19 year-old wannabe actor named Greg Sestero (who later went on to write the book that serves as the inspiration for this film). It is this friendship that serves as the foundation of the film. Sestero lacks confidence in himself and his on-stage presence, but is determined to connect with the self-confidence and energy of Wiseau.
In the same way that an audience didn't need to have seen the Wood Jr's films Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 From Outer Space to appreciate Ed Wood, an audience who has not seen The Room will still find a lot to enjoy here. But for those who have seen The Room more times than they've seen immediate family members, the film is an absolute meta-textual delight.
An early scene in the film has Greg Sestero watching Tommy Wiseau performing on stage in an acting class. Fans of The Room will watch Franco writhing around on the ground and recognise his movements as echoing the performance Wiseau gives with a red dress in the final minutes of The Room. For fans, the film serves as a fictional Rosetta stone to the film they've thrown too many (?) spoons at.
The existing fan audience has every right to feel nervous going in to see the film. This is mainstream Hollywood co-opting a fandom that exists well beyond the world of traditional film. Fans will not be disappointed by What Franco and friends have crafted here. This is as loving and knowing as any fan would want.
For those who have never seen Wiseau's ridiculous film and aren't all that interested in subjecting themselves to a bad film for entertainment's sake, The Disaster Artist shouldn't be overlooked. This is an absolute crowd-pleaser that will have you laughing harder than most studio comedies.
The Disaster Artist is now screening nationwide.