FILM REVIEW: The Disaster Artist (2017)
You’re not a true film fan until you have endured The Room. The ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies’, directed, produced, written by and starring Tommy Wiseau, has gained infamy among cult movie enthusiasts since its 2003 release, steadily growing in feverish popularity and playing continuously to sold-out screenings across the world. It’s achieved the kind of cult status that is rivalled only by Plan 9 from Outer Space, and cemented Wiseau as the modern-day Ed Wood, continuing to fascinate audiences with his vampirish appearance, multiple belt wearing and accent of undetermined origin. He is an enigma.
Which is why the success of the book by Greg Sestero (who played Mark) about the making of The Room is no surprise. He published The Disaster Artist with the help of writer and critic Tom Bissell ten years after the film’s release, right when the cult popularity of The Room was climbing towards its apex. The book is an enthralling read, equal parts hilarious and cringe-inducing, but most importantly it revealed the friendship at the heart of the film’s conception. As well as being funny and slightly unbelievable, it’s a moving story about the importance of following your dreams, even when nobody else believes in you.
Sestero always planned on making the story of The Disaster Artist into a film of its own, and two years after the book’s release the rights were acquired by James Franco and Seth Rogen and production began. The fact that Franco, acclaimed sex-symbol and James Dean lookalike, cast himself to play Wiseau is a stroke of genius in itself. This might actually be the best performance I have ever seen him give. Not only is the accent spot-on, but everything about his demeanour and appearance completely embodies Wiseau, right down to the weird laugh and childlike lack of self-awareness. It’s miraculous. I’ve always preferred Franco when he leans into his natural comedic talent, rather than his tendency to be over-serious, and it’s great to see him embracing this part of himself so wholeheartedly and playing to all his strengths. This is further exemplified by Seth Rogen playing Script Supervisor ‘Sandy’, who riffs off Franco so well even when they are not in shot together.
Another stroke of genius is the casting of Dave Franco as Sestero. The pre-existing bond and chemistry between the Franco brothers makes the depiction of Wiseau and Sestero’s friendship feel very genuine and it’s one of the movie’s strongest components. It was prudent of screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber to make this the main focus of the film, because if the story were purely made up of behind-the-scenes-of-The-Room stuff it would probably have run out of steam pretty quickly, as well as alienating audience members that haven’t seen the film. Each scene is written around the characters’ emotions so we are invested in them until the bitter end, whether we are fans of The Room or not.
If you love The Room I don’t see how it’s possible not to like this movie, because Franco and co. are clearly such huge fans of it themselves and are putting all that they’ve got into The Disaster Artist. Like The Room itself, this is a passion project through-and-through, made with total love and an almost holy respect to the original story. The joy that pours out of every scene, every line-read, is infectious, and the shot-to-shot comparisons to The Room which play out right at the end are GOLD.