Directed by James Franco and based on the autobiographical book by Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist tells the story of struggling young actor Greg (Dave Franco) who meets the strange, mysterious and fearless Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class; the two of them quickly form a friendship and impulsively move to Los Angeles to make their acting dreams come true, each of them making a promise to never give up on their dreams and to keep pushing each other towards stardom. However, when the dream opportunities don’t come a-calling, Greg and Tommy decide to make something happen for themselves by making their very own movie; Tommy wants to create a masterpiece but with his deeply flawed script and unconventional, often torturous, directorial style, tensions soon run high and the film’s troubled production eventually results in The Room, an infamously, and unintentionally hilarious, terrible film that would later live on as a cult classic.
Straight off the bat, The Disaster Artist is a success because it’s a very clever and funny film that has a joyous fondness for Wiseau’s 2003 “disasterpiece”, making all the jokes at the sheer ridiculousness of the original film while at the same time, infusing the story with boatloads of heart and sometimes even unpredictability and tension. As director, James Franco manages to balance various moods and tones quite admirably, giving the audience plenty of bang for their buck; he keeps things going at a breezy pace, and successfully recreates all of those infamous scenes from The Room to an entertainingly exciting extent – his passion and energy for telling this particular tale is commendable and praiseworthy.
The film is very well written, full of in-jokes and references to its source material, and has a clear narrative structure and a very interesting story that’s well worthy of the big screen treatment; it’s so fascinating to learn just how Greg and Tommy first met and how The Room came to life.
Portraying the man of the hour, James Franco is ideally suited to play the infamous Tommy Wiseau and his committed, barnstorming performance gives the film tons of energy, laughs and heart. Not knowing an awful lot about Wiseau myself, Franco’s interpretation sometimes seems like a bit of a caricature, how we all imagine Wiseau would act like in real life, but there’s plenty of depth to his performance and he manages to be really funny throughout; his character behaves irresponsibly plenty of times as well, rubbing so many people up the wrong way and causing friction and chaos on set by denying Greg a huge TV opportunity, leaving the cast and crew to work in intense heat without air conditioning or water, and generally making it all his way or the highway, turning the filming process into a tough ordeal.
But alongside all of this, he shows plenty of heart and we clearly see that the film is his way of baring his soul (could The Room really be about his own life?); it means an awful lot to him, as does his close friendship with Greg, and when he occasionally stumbles, succumbing to despair when things don’t go his way and people keep seeing him as the villain, we see his pain and constantly will him to succeed. This role is obviously important to Franco and his dedication is certainly not in vain; as Tommy Wiseau, he is funny, full of energy and you just can’t help but like him in spite of his eccentricities.
Playing opposite him, his younger brother Dave is equally as good as Greg Sestero, essentially the audience surrogate as we embark on this journey with him and watch the development of his friendship with Tommy. He starts off as a wide-eyed, excitable young man, amazed by the force of nature who he literally sees climbing the walls in acting class, and despite Tommy’s tendency to get on people’s nerves, coupled with the idea that Greg kind of gives up his life for the sake of the movie, Greg never really gives up on Tommy and there is never any doubt that the two of them have a special bond. Dave Franco is an enthusiastic and relatable character in the film and both Franco brothers have a natural, inescapable chemistry filled with good humour and heart.
The supporting cast is primarily made up of big name cameos and there sure are a whole load of them, not surprising given that it’s a Franco/Rogen project. Seth Rogen himself probably has the largest supporting role as script supervisor/assistant director Sandy who often shows his exasperation over Wiseau’s antics and Rogen is a great fit in his ol’ buddy’s film, nabbing a load of the best lines with the comic timing of an experienced pro (which he is). Alison Brie also stars as Greg’s girlfriend Amber, a reminder of the fulfilling life that Greg could have outside of Tommy’s world, and there are celebrity cameos aplenty from the likes of Judd Apatow, Bryan Cranston and an initially unrecognizable Zac Efron; all are well up for a laugh and so many of them get ample chance to shine, given how the story allows for a close look at some of the other participants of The Room, not just Tommy and Greg.
Any negative points about the film would most certainly be nitpicks but it’s probable that some creative liberties were taken with the actual story behind The Room and it all surely didn’t end on such a happy note, with Tommy and the whole cast and crew perfectly content to accept the film as an out-and-out comedy directly after the premiere. Plus, the closing side by side comparisons of both the original film and Franco’s recreations, although incredibly entertaining to watch, go on for too long and seem more like a DVD extra. And not knowing where Tommy’s “bottomless pit” of money came from was a little annoying.
But those are just nitpicks because I really enjoyed The Disaster Artist; the film has so much going on (humour, heart, palpable tension, excruciating embarrassment) and it’s a fun, fascinating and very engrossing film to sit down and enjoy. By the end, my face was hurting from all the smiling and I left the cinema happy, laughing and on a high – an incredible achievement for the film, since I rarely have such a positive emotional reaction to films these days, emotionally repressed guy that I am.