“The Disaster Artist” details a filmmaker whose artistic ambitions outweighed his talent. The true story of Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, producer and star of “The Room” is the title character, a man who miraculously and unwittingly turned disaster into triumph.
The story of the making of the worst film ever begins in 1998 at an acting class. Greg Sestero’s (Dave Franco) excerpt from “Waiting for Godot” has severely underwhelmed the teacher. Uptight and timid he’s as stiff as a board onstage. In other words he’s the complete opposite of Wiseau (James Franco), a loose-limbed performer with a wardrobe that looks nicked from Madonna’s closet circa 1986, who is as uninhibited as Greg is clenched.
Tommy is mysterious figure. He claims to be in his twenties, despite clearly being a child of the 1960s. He says his unusual Eastern European accent hails from New Orleans and insists on not being asked personal questions. The there is the question of why his bank account is, apparently, bottomless.
As the odd couple get friendly Tommy becomes Greg’s mentor. “You have to be the best, Greg,” he says, and never give up.” They hang out, watch “Rebel Without a Cause”— “You could be like James Dean,” Tommy says.—and hatch a plan to move to Los Angeles to make their mark in show biz. “I don’t want a career,” Tommy says. “I want my own planet.”
Setting up shop in Tommy’s LA pad, they audition and work but an impromptu audition is an epiphany for Wiseau. Spotting a high rolling producer (Judd Apatow) at a fancy restaurant Tommy recites Shakespeare for the bewildered man. Before being thrown out the producer gives him some advice. “Just because you want it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Even with the talent of Brando it’s one in a million and you don’t have it. It’s not going to happen for you.”
In the face of rejection Tommy decides to take matters into his own hands. “Hollywood rejects us,” he says. “We do it on our own.” He writes “The Room,” a self proclaimed masterpiece that he will produce, direct and appear in. Of course there is a juicy role in there for Mark as well.
Much of the rest of the movie is spent chronicling the bizarro-land production of the film-within-the-film. Bankrolled by Tommy, the $6 million production was plagued not only by a nonsensical script but Wiseau’s strange behaviour. When Greg moves in with his girlfriend (Alison Brie) Tommy feels betrayed and takes it out on the cast and crew.
The final product is the stuff of legend. “The Room” is an incomprehensible mess, a movie so misguided it starts off bad, gets worse and keeps going, through sheer force of will to become enjoyable. It’s a film so awful audiences can’t take their eyes off it, like a car crash. “Is it still going?” asks Lisa (Ari Graynor), one of the stars of the film through tears and giggles.
The key to pulling off “The Disaster Artist” is not recreating “The Room” beat for beat, although they do that, it’s actually about treating Wiseau as a person and not an object of fun. He’s an outrageous character and Franco commits to it 100%. From the marble-mouthed speech pattern that’s part Valley Girl and part Beaker from The Muppets to the wild clothes and stringy hair, he’s equal parts creepy and lovable but underneath his bravado are real human frailties. Depending on your point of view he’s either delusional or aspirational but in Franco’s hands he’s never also never less than memorable. It’s a broad, strange performance but it may also be one of the actor’s best.
“The Disaster Artist” is a character study about the power of dreams. Even if it isn’t in the way Tommy intended, audiences have fun at “The Room” screenings. “How often do you think Hitchcock got a response like this?” asks Greg as the crowd roars with laughter.
The new film is a love letter to the movies and how they are the stuff dreams are made of. As for the success of Tommy’s dream? It’s like what Adam Scott says about “The Room” in one of the film’s celebrity testimonials, “Who watches the best picture from a decade ago? But people are still watching ‘The Room.’”