December 5, 2017
What makes a movie a success? Certainly, box office grosses or particularly affecting performances onscreen contribute, but that doesn’t explain the lingering fascination with the 2003 cult classic The Room.
The Room is an odd film with an almost indiscernible plot and a nonsensical script, featuring performances that range from wooden to flat out bizarre. And yet…it regularly sells out midnight screenings around the country to audiences who make Rocky Horror Picture Show fans look tame.
In a career-defining one-two punch, James Franco directs and stars in The Disaster Artist, the story of how a movie as weirdly unwatchable as The Room got made in the first place.
Franco is Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious writer/director/actor wanna-be who convinces his acting partner Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) to leave San Francisco and move to Los Angeles to make their Hollywood dreams come true. When they’re thwarted in their attempts to break into the business, Tommy takes matters into his own hands. He writes The Room, buys all the equipment necessary to make a “real Hollywood movie,” hires a crew and gets to work directing and starring in what he believes is a true masterpiece that explores human behavior.
Wiseau is an interesting character, both as he’s depicted in the film and in real life. No one knows where he’s from – he claims New Orleans, but his accent suggests otherwise – or where he got his money. Before making The Room, he had no prior writing, directing, or acting experience. In The Disaster Artist, he is driven by his ambition to make something concrete that proves he and Greg made their dreams come true.
James Franco embodies Tommy Wiseau so convincingly that there were moments I forgot there was an actor behind the performance. It was just Tommy. Wiseau has an array of idiosyncratic ticks. His accent is unidentifiable, he tucks his hair behind one ear, he laughs at inappropriate moments. Franco delivers each of these and more as if they are uniquely his own. It’s an impressive performance that goes well beyond mimicry to perfectly capture the essence of a person who seems endlessly elusive.
There is a particular kind of artist who truly believes that simply doing a thing makes the thing worth doing. Their sense of accomplishment lies not in whether the thing is “good” or “bad,” but simply that it has been done. Tommy Wiseau is perhaps the greatest example of this mentality. He never worries with whether The Room is good or bad. It’s getting done, so therefore it’s worth doing. It’s this – optimism? idealism? naiveté? – that enables him to pull everyone else along for the ride.
It’s in the execution of this ideal that Franco reveals himself to be a sympathetic and effective director, as well as a Hollywood insider and true artist. The Disaster Artist is funny, for sure, especially once production on The Room begins, and an experienced film crew has to deal with the insanity of working with Tommy. Fans of The Room will recognize some well-placed and hilariously executed inside jokes (“oh, hi Mark”) that make The Disaster Artist laugh out loud funny. But underneath the humor, there’s a melancholy that anyone who has ever chased a dream will recognize. The film asks whether a thing needs to be objectively good to be worthwhile. And it answers that question with a resounding no – that just going out and doing something brings its own reward, and that success comes in many different packages.
Though it serves as a companion piece to The Room, The Disaster Artist is an exceptional film in its own right that’s worth a watch whether you’ve seen that original movie or not. The fact that it is an excellent movie about the making of a truly terrible one is a clever bit of irony that all audiences will appreciate.
Star Rating: 5 out of 5