The original title for “The Disaster Artist,” the movie based on a book based on a bad movie, was “The Masterpiece.” I’m glad they stuck with “The Disaster Artist” because masterpiece is a bit condescending. The bad movie in question is, “The Room” which was released in 2003. Many call it the worst movie ever made.
But Disaster Artist is a perfect title to describe the enigma that is, Tommy Wiseau, the man behind “The Room.” In the last ’90s, Wiseau and Greg Sestero moved to Los Angeles with dreams of making it in the movies. Unfortunately, thousands of other people have the same dream so they were met with the harsh reality that show business is a cutthroat industry.
“It’s a million-to-one and that’s with Brando’s talent,” says Judd Apatow in a cameo. Wiseau and Sestero were no Brando and after a few years with no progress, Wiseau decided to make his own movie.
The result was, “The Room.” I’ve never seen it, but I’ve seen clips and heard stories and so have many others because the film has gained cult status since its middling release fourteen years ago. But what is it really about? Who is Tommy Wiseau? Where did he come from? How old is he and how on earth can he have apartments in San Francisco and Los Angles and drop more than $5 million on a movie without any financiers?
Director and star, James Franco, doesn’t care about answering these questions because to know who Tommy Wiseau is would be to know the unknowable. He could be a vampire for all we know and that is hinted at multiple times in the movie. Instead, Franco tells a story about two friends attempting to follow their dreams without the fear of failure because to not try at all would be the true failure. That’s the Teddy Roosevelt quote, right?
Dave Franco plays Sestero and up to this point in his career, I’ve found Dave Franco to be nondescript. He looks like James and talks like James, but he’s a little shorter and seemingly normal and not nearly as mysterious as James which is why Dave is the perfect choice to act opposite his brother in real life. Dave plays the part with genuine sincerity and earnestness.
Like Wiseau, James Franco has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Early in his career it looked like he was going to be just another pretty face anointed the next movie star. Instead, he’s acted in movies, soaps and theater. He’s directed multiple films, wrote books, screenplays, gone back to school and even taught at such universities as USC, UCLA and NYU. He even hosted the Oscars once which we’re not going to talk about. Seriously, Ryan Seacrest thinks James Franco should tone it down.
Franco knows people underestimate him and that’s why he is such a great choice to portray Wiseau. Besides the terrific impression and physical transformation, Franco knows where Wiseau is coming from and he uses that knowledge and drive to give his best performance since “127 Hours.” Not only did he make a movie about a movie, but he’s playing a real-life person who embodies some of his own qualities as an artist. It’s all very meta.
His performance and his direction come from a good place which is important. He isn’t condescending or mocking Wiseau and “The Room” as I mentioned earlier. He’s telling a true story in an honest way and celebrating someone who wasn’t afraid to put himself out there and make something.
A director is only as good as the people he works with and Franco has assembled a great supporting cast including longtime pal Seth Rogen as the script supervisor. It’s mostly a comedic performance but Rogen delivers as does Paul Scheer as the director of photography and the obscenely underused Ari Graynor as Lisa. There’s also a number of memorable cameos.
The attention to detail is also excellent as some of Franco’s shots and framing are spot-on with the original and he showcases those similarities as the film ends with a split-screen montage of scenes from “The Room” versus “The Disaster Artist.”
Tommy Wiseau doesn’t really have any skills as a director, actor or writer but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in ridiculous irrational confidence. When everyone told him no, Wiseau decided okay, I’ll do it myself.
The reception of the finished product might not be what he intended (He claims “The Room” was always supposed to be a comedy), but what Wiseau did is what every artist aspires too: Create something that people love. He apparently did and so has Franco.
“The Disaster Artist” is a sharply-toned satire about a “unique” individual who made a movie so bad it’s become beloved and Franco celebrates that admiration and love.