Based on the book of the same name, The Disaster Artist tells the story of the making of the famously bad movie, The Room. Does Writer-Director James Fanco make a great film or is it more like…well, The Room?
It’s 1998 in San Francisco and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor that suffers from crippling stage fright. Because stage fright is obviously something great for an actor to have, Greg is drawn to the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a fellow student in his acting class. Tommy is far more extroverted than Greg and doesn’t have the same inhibitions. Greg feels he can learn a lot from Tommy, even though he is an abysmal actor, and the two become friends. Tommy is very secretive and enigmatic. He dresses a bit like Michael Jackson from his Bad period, has an accent that no one can pin down—he claims he’s from New Orleans—and has access to a seemingly endless supply of money. When Tommy reveals that he has an apartment in Los Angeles, he and Greg move there to follow their Hollywood dreams. However, after striking out repeatedly, Tommy decides to write and direct his own film, The Room, in which Greg will have a leading role. Then things get really bizarre as Tommy becomes more and more controlling and Greg wonders if he has thrown in with the right person to make his dreams reality.
If there’s one thing you need to know about The Disaster Artist, know this: it’s very, very funny. However, the question is, are you laughing with the characters or at them? It’s a distinction that needs to be made, because Tommy and Greg are real people who are still alive. Of course, the real-life versions of these guys had to sign off on all this, which is probably why Tommy is presented as more of an eccentric here instead of as the raging asshole that he’s somewhat infamous for being. Also, while Tommy definitely comes across as a creep in this film, I think it downplays his creep factor a bit. Despite toning Tommy down, the film still presents the audience with no one to root for. You can’t root for Tommy, because he’s essentially the villain of the piece, even though he ends up winning in the end, (sorry, spoiler alert), but you also can’t root for Greg, because he’s completely spineless. Throughout the film, the two of them talk about what great friends they are, but all Greg does is take from Tommy without giving anything back. You could argue that at least he hangs out with a guy who’s so off-putting, but when Greg really needs to stand up to Tommy, he doesn’t. It isn’t until Greg breaks free from Tommy that he is truly happy, but until then, he just capitulates to Tommy’s overbearing nature.
Another element that doesn’t work is at the start of the film where a bunch of famous people talk about how much they love The Room and praise Wiseau. Really? The Room is a funny because it’s so terrible kind of movie, not some secret masterpiece. Make no mistake, that movie is beyond awful. People may love to laugh at it, but it is by no means a good movie and Wiseau is no genius auteur. He is probably a genius marketer, though, turning his failure into cult success, but that’s about it.
The cast does a really good job, with some amazing supporting work and cameos throughout. James Franco hits it out of the park with his performance as Wiseau. He’s not a perfect imitation, but he totally captures Tommy’s natural weirdness and creepiness. Dave Franco does all right, but he mostly has an expression of barely concealed horror throughout, which is appropriate considering Wiseau. I think the biggest issue with his performance is the script. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t do the character of Greg any favors. Seth Rogen is also great as Sandy, the script supervisor Tommy hired, who ends up mostly directing the film. Ari Graynor is good as Juliette, who plays Lisa in The Room, but like Jackie Weaver and Alison Brie, who also star, the script doesn’t give her a whole lot to do. There are some other great cameos from familiar comedy faces, so watch out for those.
Overall, I thought The Disaster Artist was really funny, but I can’t decide just how good of a movie it is. It’s definitely not a completely accurate portrayal of the making of The Room, but it also doesn’t make any of the key players look very good either. I guess it stands more as a bizarre tribute to a truly terrible movie and as that it does a good job.