A movie about the making of the best bad movie ever made: doesn’t sound too enticing, does it?
Unless you’ve seen The Room, that is. (Extra points if you’re lucky enough to have attended a midnight screening of the cult classic, spoon-throwing audience participation and all.)
If you’ve never seen The Room, go watch it now; then pick up Greg Sestero’s ‘The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made‘ in audiobook form. You can thank me later.
The Disaster Artist goes way beyond a simple behind-the-scenes look at what went on during filming of this trainwreck of a movie, and that’s mostly thanks to Tommy Wiseau’s eccentric personality. But the heart and soul of this movie is definitely Greg Sestero’s relationship with this riddle of a man, as documented in his tell-all book, published a decade after The Room hit the theatres.
And, while I almost hate to admit it, The Disaster Artist‘s success is a testament to James Franco’s talent and his dedication in bringing this book to screen. Say what you will about the guy – and I’ve said plenty over the years – but the Franco brothers are both killing it in this one. Even Seth Rogen is hilarious, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before about the formerly chubby member of the Apatow gang.
As is usually the case, the movie doesn’t explore every thread laid out in the book. It would be impossible to delve too deep into the bizarre friendship formed between Wiseau and Sestero within the confines of the movie’s 2-hour runtime, but it does come pretty close and definitely hits all the high notes. From Sestero’s excellent impression of Wiseau’s speaking patterns and quirky catchphrases, to the evolution of their odd friendship, right down to Tommy’s bizarre approach to filmmaking, Franco’s movie is as faithful to the source material as I’d hoped, delivering laughs as well as introspective moments that cast Wiseau in a different light.
Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is excellent; he makes it look easy, and I bet not a lot of people really understand what a tall order that is. From his tone of voice and indistinguishable accent to his various mannerisms, his Wiseau impression is spot-on. What’s even more impressive, however, is the respectful way he approaches this real-life character. Franco’s Tommy isn’t the exaggerated version you’d find in an SNL skit; it’s a deeper look into this enigmatic personality, his loneliness, his hopes and dreams and his unlikely journey to realizing them, in his own uniquely unconventional way.
From audition reject to cult phenomenon, Tommy’s journey to cult status was definitely a strange one, and there are several beats in the movie that attest to the man’s weird brand of genius. With the odds stacked against him, the strange-looking, arguably delusional aspiring actor managed to not only amass a fortune large enough to finance his movie, but to also write, direct and star in it. Met with uncontrollable laughter rather than the emotion he undoubtedly wished to evoke in his audience, the embarassed Wiseau soldiered on. He didn’t let anyone but Sestero witness his hurt feelings; instead of wallowing in humiliation, he declared his venture a huge success, and seems to genuinely enjoy his celebrity status as the epitome of the so-bad-it’s-awesome brand of cinema, which, in the 14 years since its release, has actually turned a profit.
Franco captures all of it with panache, and the result is as hilarious as it is unexpectedly touching at times. I thoroughly enjoyed the re-enactment of the painfully long takes for the famous “I did not hit her… oh hi Mark” shot, as well as every other quotable scene from the original movie – the decision to stitch them all together at the end of the film in a side-by-side comparison was brilliant. I also loved the fact that Franco didn’t shy away from pointing out the three main questions (out of a very long list) that still go unanswered: where is Tommy from? How did he become rich? And how old is he really?
But aside from all of that, perhaps Franco’s biggest achievement was the fact that Tommy actually comes off as a likable character. Even when he acts like a jealous dick towards his best (and only) friend, even when he tortures his cast and crew, Tommy’s weird humanity and vulnerability peeks through, and rather than pity him, we actually come to love him.
The Room has a cult following for a reason; so does Sestero’s book. Franco’s The Disaster Artist is the best of both worlds. I had been looking forward to it since the project was announced, and not only did it not disappoint, it actually exceeded my expectations. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!