There are mediocre movies you shouldn’t pay to see, there are bad movies you shouldn’t watch for free, and then there’s “The Room”: a flagrant failure of a film so brazenly bizarre that it demands viewing. It has enjoyed adoration both ironic and genuine since its release in 2003, garnering millions of fans and earning nationwide screenings that continue to this day. The movie’s writer/director/producer/star, Tommy Wiseau, is a singularity of endless eccentricity that intrigues all who lay eyes upon him. But no one was as intrigued as James Franco, who dives into the vagaries of Wiseau with “The Disaster Artist”.
James Franco, who produced the film with his comedic co-conspirators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, directs and stars in this appreciative ode to the worst movie ever made. The true story comes from a book written by Greg Sestero, an actor who was once roped into moving to LA and co-starring in “The Room” with Wiseau. James Franco’s take on the tale is something special; a tour de force that touts his career-defining performance.
“The Disaster Artist”, like the book, tells the story of “The Room” largely from Sestero’s perspective. The film begins with the first threads of friendship between Sestero and an already weird Wiseau, and explores how their infamous movie may have stemmed from Wiseau’s codependent obsession with Sestero. It could constitute high drama, but James Franco has learned a thing or ten from his past failures: the dramas he’s directed bombed due to heavy-handed indulgence, so James Franco coats interpersonal tension in comedy here. The tone is remarkably consistent and lets emotions peek out from behind laughs.
“The Disaster Artist” makes a strong case for creating a ‘Best Casting Director’ Oscars category. The perfect casting choices are entertaining in and of themselves: Dave Franco (acting alongside his brother for the first time) is an effective Sestero and audience surrogate, Rogen shares our bewilderment as a frustrated script supervisor; fans of the “The Room” will eat up the Denny/Chris-R confrontation between Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron. And Nathan Fielder as psychologist Peter? Cinema rarely sees such an immaculate match.
Amidst them all, this is still James Franco’s show, and it’s a feat to behold. His portrayal of Tommy Wiseau—one of the most inimitably strange men to ever walk the earth—is of historic caliber. James Franco downright nails Wiseau’s accent, speech pattern, body language, dress, lazy eye, everything. Tommy Wiseau comes off like an alien failing miserably at human behavior and James Franco captures that sensation with uncanny precision. When James Franco dons Wiseau’s signature sunglasses, you can barely tell the two apart.
This performance isn’t James Franco’s only conduit for humanizing the alien. The whole movie takes a complicated man and further complicates him with more human misgivings. In a sense, “The Disaster Artist” ruins “The Room” in a good way: no longer can one watch the worst movie ever made and treat Wiseau like a joke. This film fills Wiseau out as a lonely guy who just wants to be liked; a martyr to his own disaster. The tragic undercurrent serves the movie well and solidifies its importance.
Though its flaws aren’t as abysmal as the movie that inspired it, “The Disaster Artist” has fundamental problems. The structure is slipshod: it’s divided into before, during, and after shooting “The Room”, which the movie wrongly mistakes for a sufficient three act structure. Instead it’s muddy and lacks forward momentum. It works best as a character study of Wiseau, but when it wastes time explaining the funniest lines and moments from “The Room”, it essentially ruins those unintentional jokes.
Aside from those nagging issues, “The Disaster Artist” is almost as fun as “The Room”—which is saying something. It doles out hilarity, empathy, and ridiculousness in equal measure, all anchored by a performance deserving of recognition from The Academy. It’s a riot to enjoy with your loved one who loves “The Room”, or the best argument for convincing a friend to experience Tommy Wiseau’s disaster-piece.
★★★★ (4 out of 5)