Nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie. Films themselves are incredibly challenging to produce, requiring the combined efforts of hundreds, if not thousands of people creatively coming together to make a work of art. It’s a miracle whenever a good movie releases. Whatever Tommy Wiseau’s intentions with his infamous 2003 cult hit “The Room,” the film took on a life of its own, beloved around the world yet for all the wrong reasons. James Franco’s adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s fantastic novel of the same name is empathetic to the plight of those who dare to share their dreams with the world, while also not shying away from the more uncomfortable aspects of Wiseau’s personality. “The Disaster Artist” is a hilarious and endearing picture about friendship and chasing one’s dreams, no matter how misguided they are.
In the late 90’s, aspiring young actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) attends acting class where he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a fellow aspiring actor whose international origins and age remain a mystery. Awed by Tommy’s reckless abandon approach to acting, Greg strikes up a friendship with Tommy as the two set out to Los Angeles to make their dreams come true. When their opportunities dry up, Tommy begins to work on his own magnum opus to breakthrough Hollywood; an intimate character drama “with the passion of Tennessee Williams” titled “The Room,” which he writes, produces, directors, and stars. As production gets underway, Tommy’s cluelessness and inexperience arises, and his and Greg’s friendship begins to unravel.
It would have been easy for “The Disaster Artist” to be just a disposable series of references designed to appeal to fans of “The Room” and absolutely nobody else. Luckily, Franco and screenwriters Scott Neusadter and Michael H. Weber keep the primary focus on the characters, with the making of the film serving as the backdrop of one of the most bizarre relationships displayed the screen all year. Even if you’re unfamiliar with “The Room” (but those who’ve watched it will certainly get more enjoyment out of it), you will still be entertained throughout while also being surprised by the craziest Hollywood “success” story in years.
The production of “The Room” comprises the entirety of the second act and much of the film’s humor comes from Tommy being underqualified for the task of directing a picture, such as building an alleyway on the studio lot for a key scene even though they could just utilize the real alleyway right outside, or shooting with both film and digital cameras without understanding why neither format has been used simultaneously. One of my fears heading in the film is that it would ignore Tommy’s negative behavior, and portray him as just a lovable goofball with an ego as bottomless and his bank account. Surprisingly, Franco doesn’t shy away from Tommy’s horrific treatment of his cast and crew. Like the novel the film is based on, you will end up feeling sorry for Tommy one moment and then outright hating him the next. In addition to the enigma surrounding his personal life, Tommy is an utterly fascinating and captivating character.
While the film makes no excuses for his behavior, it is grounded in real emotions. Though little is known about Tommy’s life (he claims to be from New Orleans even though his accent is clearly European), just going off what few details given, we can deduce that Tommy is somebody who grew up overseas under poor circumstances while hearing tales about America, a place where those who dare to dream can make the impossible become reality. He’s an immigrant with ambitions to fulfill his America dream. His desire to be seen and be heard is from deep insecurity. When Greg begins dating a woman, Tommy becomes noticeably irate. Though Greg as his own life, family, and goals, it’s clear he is all Tommy has.
Though the story is told from Greg’s perspective, and Dave Franco himself makes a great straight man, this is clearly a story about Tommy, and James Franco absolutely owns the role. He doesn’t just put on a long wig, facial prosthetics, and speak in a funny accent, he transforms himself into this lonely, insecure man whose incapability to open up drives a wedge into possibly the only real friendship he’s ever had. He captures all of Tommy’s mannerisms, including his famously awkward sigh/laugh, with surgical precision. In an already highly competitive race for the Oscar for Best Actor, Franco makes an incredibly strong impression with his best performance since 2010’s “127 Hours.”
Mocking Tommy Wiseau is easy. Though he certainly deserves criticism for his treatment of his cast and crew. He has an unidentifiable accent, unusually long hair, and he is socially inept. As “The Room” is met with laughter in all the wrong places at its world premiere, it’s difficult to not look past Tommy’s faults and see there is a person who genuinely tried to make a serious piece of fiction. Although the film was received in a way Wiseau never intended, he still got to make a movie, which sells out at midnight screenings across the world to this day, and nobody can ever take that away from him. “The Disaster Artist” is an ode to those who pursue their passions and share them with the world. People may not respond to one’s work positively, but art is art, even when it’s a disaster.