It’s practically a rite of passage for anyone to see the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau’s infamously ill-received indie project, The Room. What’s been dubbed as the ‘Citizen Kane of Bad Movies’ has transformed into something of a cultural phenomenon, attracting audiences by the drove, all mentally and physically prepared for the hilarity that the film unintentionally inspires.
It’s this improbable success story that lays at the heart of James Franco’s new movie, The Disaster Artist. Tracing the journey of director Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and collaborator and co-star Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), as they navigate through the challenging world of acting and Hollywood, The Disaster Artist ultimately seeks to arrive at the production of the greatest terrible movie of all time: all of its creative problems, its cast and crew conflicts and its eventual transformation into the unlikeliest source of pure cinematic joy.
Yet what we get with The Disaster Artist isn’t perhaps what you’d expect. There are certainly moments that harken back to the original film: any chance to see Wiseau – or in this case, Franco as Wiseau – belt out the classically hysterical line ‘You are tearing me apart Lisa!’ is more than welcome. However, this film isn’t a mere blooper reel: a greatest worst hits album, recounting and remaking all of the original’s most notorious scenes. Instead, what Franco and his writers Scott Neudstadter and Michael H. Weber have accomplished is nothing short of a feat of surprising brilliance: they’ve turned Wiseau’s story into an inspiring tale of relentless creativity and perseverance in the face of rejection.
With Tommy and Greg, we see two individuals who possess real desire, passion and display genuine devotion for their craft, irrespective of its quality. When they enter a diner together for the first time, for example, Tommy encourages Greg to let out his inner drama demons, resulting in an exchange in which they bellow lines from a classical play as though they were each Zarathustra, preaching from the clouds. Again, while Tommy and Greg’s delivery of said lines is questionable, that is beside the point. Just seeing the two aspiring actors commence an impassioned dramatic dialogue with one another, forgetting all those around them, not caring for a second what they think: it just might make you want to stand up in the auditorium yourself and let out a little Shakespeare that you retained from secondary school.
It’s this willingness to move past the mockery, to simply look at these two wishful people hoping to achieve their dreams and to incite a self-realisation within us that we’re not so different from the ever-ridiculed Wiseau, that makes The Disaster Artist stand out from the busy crowd of biographical dramas that simply show us an individual’s mighty history, so we can admire their actions over the course of their lives. While we’d all like to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln, I think we’re all a little closer to James Franco’s Wiseau, and The Disaster Artist proves that that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Let’s talk about James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. It was always going to present itself as a daunting task: how best to portray an unusual, yet implausibly real individual who cannot act? Meryl Streep thought she had it hard with Florence Foster Jenkins and her inability to sing: Franco had to figure out how to convince us with a good performance of someone giving a bad performance.
Yet Franco pulls off a phenomenal feat of dramatic work that just might get him nominated for an Oscar. I can only hope, because he effortlessly captures the quirky, anomalous behaviour of Wiseau off-camera, whilst also searching for and finding an inner humanity, an appetite for pure creativity and the gumption to materialise his vision. It’s remarkable to behold and you won’t be able to take your eyes off of him, not least because of Thomas Floutz’s subtle yet superlative face prosthetics.
Dave Franco also delivers a hugely charming and likeable performance as Greg Sestero. It may seem like a less demanding role, with little to no physical or vocal transformation. But it could be seen as an even greater challenge: how to stand toe-to-toe with a scene-stealing character such as Tommy. Yet he dispenses with the goods, keeping us tied to the ground whenever we feel threatened by the prospect of sailing into the clouds, off towards Tommy Wiseau’s world.
Additionally, the rest of the ensemble is excellent, with a number of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos that surprise and delight. Equally, Brandon Trost’s oft-handheld cinematography gives the film an elegant, floaty feel that matches the unpredictable nature of Wiseau’s personality and work ethic: as The Room’s production floats from scene to scene, quite chaotically, the camera is able to harness that kind of spontaneous energy, melding seamlessly into the film’s aesthetic and narrative heart.
There are however a couple of issues I had with the film, namely a number of awkward cuts towards the latter half of the film that left me wanting, in terms of plot threads being abandoned and cuts taking place rather abruptly within the action. I understand that Franco probably felt that the story needed to kick it up a notch in terms of pacing towards the end goal, but what he and his co-writers had managed to accomplish, particularly in terms of the explosively effective nature of a number of the conflicts that transpire between takes on the set, ultimately had me craving for a chance to see the entire thing play out.
Ultimately, though, it’s a minor complaint, or even a compliment if you look at it a certain way. Because the story, and all of its proponents, provide such a heartfelt take on what was a disastrous undertaking, The Disaster Artist is raised into the upper echelon of this year’s films. It’s hilarious, poignant and nostalgic in all the right ways. And it left me walking out of the theatre with a big smile on my face and an enthusiastic spring in my step. I can’t ask for much more than that.