There are two types of film lover in the world. There are those who have seen The Room (2003), and there are those who have not. For those who have yet to sample the legendary delight, The Room is a film written, directed, produced and starred in by Tommy Wiseau, a man of such mystery that nobody even knows where he is from or how old he is. After spending more than $5 million dollars of his own money on the project, The Room was released to widespread critical condemnation, earning the title of the ‘best worst movie ever made’. Before you go on with this review, I implore you to stop, go away, watch this horrific masterpiece (it really has to be seen to be believed), and swiftly return for this discussion of The Disaster Artist.
Based on the best selling memoir of Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco), a friend of Wiseau and co-star in The Room, The Disaster Artist presents a behind the scenes look at the both the forming of his unlikely friendship with Wiseau (James Franco) and the subsequent road to repetitional ruin that was the making and release of the ill-fated, extraordinary, quite unbelievable central film.
I went in to the film expecting nothing more than a spoof type comedy about the haphazard conception of one of the worst feature films of all time, but I am so happy to report that I got much more out of The Disaster Artist than that. Not only is the picture funny, both in a call back sense and in an original sense, it also touches on emotions and themes much deeper and more poignant than I was expecting to experience. What on the surface is a quirky reimagining of the making of a terrible film, actually becomes an examination of things like male friendship, the American dream, ego and even mental illness if you want to dig a little deeper.
Although I do believe that The Disaster Artist works as a stand alone piece, there is absolutely no doubt that previous viewers and ‘fans’ of The Room will get a bigger kick out of proceedings. The filmmakers have done a very clever job of making the picture totally accessible with fresh eyes, yet at the same time presenting weathered veterans of the cult of Tommy Wiseau with something of a love letter to the original film and the original mystery of the man, with subtle but effective references serving almost as easter eggs for those who are savvy enough to pick up on them. I love a film that can go from hilarious to heartfelt in a single take, and The Disaster Artist does this on more than a handful of occasions to really poignant and memorable effect. I laughed a lot, and for reasons I haven’t quite managed to unpack for myself yet, I actually cried too. If that isn’t the sign of a great film, than I don’t know what is.
A considerable amount of the film’s magic is provided by an unexpectedly transformative performance by James Franco in the leading role. As the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau, Franco gives what I think is the best performance of his career. Thanks to the real life mystery of the man, it is impossible to base a characterisation on anything other than what Greg Sestero wrote and what the public sees, but amidst the traditional zaniness and genuine bizarre nature of the man, Franco manages to tap in to something deeper than stops the performance from being complete parody and grounds in it, well, a certain type of reality!
Acting alongside James is his brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestero, and though he has the less ‘showy’ role, Dave gives another great performances, one that portrays a really likeable, well meaning, sincere character who finds himself in the middle of an absolutely bonkers situation. The two acting brothers obviously share a great chemistry on screen, the kind of chemistry that you simply don’t find in two performers who have only just met. The closeness that the Francos share adds a really rich and interesting dynamic to the relationship between Sestero and Wiseau, and there is even a thread of an unrequited love story that viewers can pick up on if they choose to that add even more layers to the theming of the story.
In terms of supporting cast, the film is a who’s who of cameo appearances. The likes of Megan Mullally, Bob Odenkirk, Hannibal Buress, Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, Sharon Stone and Josh Hutcherson all make fun and self-aware appearances to flesh out the film’s universe. Most prominent among the supporting cast is Seth Rogen as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, unusually giving an almost ‘straight man’ type of performance to act as something of an audience surrogate around the mental chaos of the world that was The Room.
Overall, The Disaster Artist is a film, unlike so many which go the other way, that gives you much more than it says on the tin. Fans of the legend of The Room will find all of the nostalgic nods and references that they are looking for in the picture, but more importantly it also has worth on a much broader scale than just followers of a previous property. I was very pleasantly surprised by the heartfelt nature of the film’s more sincere and poignant moments, and I would not be at all surprised to see James Franco’s name listed among the Oscar nominations for Best Actor in the coming months. A real treat for cult cinephiles but also a treat for wider audiences too.