After the disappointment of an underwhelming ‘Star Wars’ film delivered a lump of coal in this festive period, getting a last minute treat within ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a welcome way to round off the festive film period. ‘The Disaster Artist’ is the story of Tommy Wiseau, the infamous and incredibly mysterious director of cult classic ‘The Room’, which is often affectionately dubbed ‘the worst film ever made.’ If you’re interested in film analysis and criticism, it’s likely that you’ve come across Wiseau’s directorial debut. ‘The Room’ is well known as the absolute peak of terrible cinema, with beyond tragic acting, production and especially woeful direction. The film was described by one critic as ‘seemingly being made by an alien who has never seen a film, but just had one described to them.’ However, the film has achieved extreme cult status and has copious celebrity fans such as Jonah Hill as well as widespread cult appeal, frequently being shown in late night movie theatres around the world. The film is a phenomenon to be sure, but a full theatrical biopic with an all star cast, was something I never thought I’d see.
Enter James Franco. Along with brother Dave and longtime creative partner Seth Rogan, Franco is clearly a huge fan of Wiseau’s work. He’s simply faultless as Wiseau; picking up his mannerisms and intonations to an almost frightening level of authenticity. The film ends with a side by side comparison of scenes from ‘The Room’ and all of the performances are scarily close to their real life (awful) counterparts. Brother Dave plays Greg Sestero, second leading man of ‘The Room’ and author of the book the biopic is based on, of the same name. While Wiseau is clearly the focus and is obviously the more famous of the duo, this is Sestero’s story and it’s through his eyes that the audience get out look into the story. Like Sestero, we see the ups and downs of Wiseau’s wild and unpredictable nature on set, seeing both the sweet side of his personality as well as his incredibly frustrating whims and wants. While the two are clearly the films leads, the rest of the cast are also strong. Ari Graynor is perhaps even more accurate to her real life counterpart than Franco and Zac Efron’s cameo role is too good to spoil.
I enjoyed every second of this film and found it delightfully endearing. I’m sure it helps that I was well aware of the source material and have enjoyed exchanging cries of ‘Oh, hi Mark’ with my friends for many years now. However, ‘The Disaster Artist’ will be an enjoyable watch for those who aren’t familiar with its real life origins. Franco as a director very quickly establishes all that you need to know about Wiseau, in a stunning opening scene. It’s just an extra treat for us fans getting to see him perform the iconic ‘ah ha ha’ laugh and relive some of our favourite scenes on the big screen. Franco is clearly a huge fan of the film and milks every inch of the ‘so bad its good’ appeal, with wonderful attention to detail. The sets are perfect, with the authentic terrible green screen backgrounds being so similar, I thought they may have just acquired the original sets. The pacing of the film is also glorious and whilst it has similar arcs to previous Franco-Rogan ventures such as ‘The Interview’ (which I also adored), the emotional climax here feels completely earned and manages to evoke a real emotional reaction, or at least it did for me.
It would’ve been very easy for Franco to create a film about ‘The Room’ that simply reenacted some of the key scenes and made everyone involved look like a joke. But he didn’t do that. Half way through the film it dawned on me which existing picture it reminded me of: 1994’s ‘Ed Wood’ directed by Tim Burton. If you’ve seen both, its actually quite uncanny how similar the source material of both films are. ‘Ed Wood’ also happens to be one of my favourite films, so this was a big plus for the picture. Franco took a bold move and instead of making Tommy Wiseau, as he might say, ‘their fool’ he created an honest, moving and ultimately inspiring picture that has a great message of never giving up on your dreams, the same empowering message as ‘Ed Wood.’. I actually walked out of the cinema feeling uplifted and inspired and the penultimate scene where the audience relentlessly laughs at the premiere actually choked me up a little. Yo see Wiseau’s reaction to having a room full of strangers ripping into something he put in his heart and soul into, hit very close to home and really got me invested. However, it ultimately has a great message, as Wiseau very quickly changed his tune and told everyone that ‘The Room’ had always been intended as ‘a black comedy.’ Whatever the case, James Franco got me tearing up about a film I’d been ridiculing for years, so props to him.
I’d also be really interested in seeing just how historically accurate the piece is; it certainly made me buy the book! As I said, the narrative follows a pretty typical comedy structure of ups and downs within its lead characters. The falling out of Tommy and Greg near the end of the third act, only for the premiere to bring them together, is typical of this format, but feels much more legitimate here with the stellar performances of both Franco’s. You, like Greg, find Tommy to be weird and annoying, but also can’t help but feel for him and be endeared by him. When he succeeds (in a way) at the end of the picture, you’re there with him and feel genuinely good for our hero. Similarly, as Greg gives up potential acting jobs for his relationship with Tommy, we feel conflicted. These are all great signs of excellent performances and writing. Like I said, I don’t know how much of this is embellished to create a compelling narrative, but whatever the case, it is indeed very compelling and shows a great deal of respect to everyone involved.
All in all, ‘The Disaster Artist’, polar opposite to its source material, is an absolute masterpiece. It’s not only hilarious, but its emotionally charged and incredibly endearing and likeable. If there was any criticisms to be made, while our two leads get centre stage and sell their performances, some of the supporting cast don’t get much of a time to shine. Josh Hutcherson, for example, doesn’t particularly sell it for me as one of ‘The Room’s’ oddest characters; Denny. This is a minor complaint though as the story really does belong to Sestero and Wiseau (or Franco squared). I can’t recommend the movie enough, and as probably the last new release film that I’ll see this year, it was an excellent way to round off 2017. I would recommend you see the original movie for the full level of enjoyment, but it’s not a necessity. Truly Franco’s best work to date. A masterpiece.