I’ve had some very uncomfortable moments in my life. There was the time in the first grade where I had a crush on a girl and so I got her a flower. As I was mentally planning out our life together, I later saw that she had given it to another guy. Then there’s the time I had the exciting talk with my parents about how I was attracted to men. When asked how I knew that I was interested in other men, and if I had tried being with a female, all I could do was think back to my scorned affections in the first grade while answering, “Yes!” On that list of uncomfortable moments is the time a friend recommended I watch what he referred to as, “The greatest film ever made!” This was over a decade ago and I was hungry for new films, but instead of a Citizen Kane-type of experience, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room left me completely bewildered.
Was The Room an elaborate joke? Was it made ironically and meant to be an intentional parody? How does something so incredibly poorly written, acted and directed get made? I’ve never left a film with more questions, and the fact that it lingers in your mind much longer than it has any right to is the very reason it has gained cult status. Having interviewed Tommy Wiseau and attended multiple midnight showings didn’t help to answer any of my questions, but watching the essential companion piece known as The Disaster Artist added a clarity I never thought I would get even after I died.
To appreciate The Disaster Artist, you need to have even the smallest (begrudging) understanding of The Room. See it, witness the cinematic conundrum and familiarize yourself with the acting atrocities. For first time viewers, I recommend a midnight screening because not only does the audience highlight the most memorable moments, but it is also likely the least depressing setting to watch this film in.
The Disaster Artist, based on the book by the same name, chronicles The Room’s co-star Greg Sestero’s (Dave Franco) history with Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the making of the film. If you thought the film itself was a hilarious mess, you’ll love seeing just how much of a disaster it was to create. Aside from seeing the re-enacted movie magic that went into creating some of your favorite, cringe-worthy scenes in The Room, it demystifies the origins of the original film and shows us the motivations of the people that helped create the greatest worst film ever.
The Disaster Artist could have easily been a compilation of jokes that take advantage of the low-hanging fruit that is The Room, but co-writing duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars) choose character study over comedic cut-and-dry. Tommy Wiseau has been made into a joke since he released his film, but Neustadter and Weber adapt the book with the goal of humanizing someone who has been turned into a human punchline. This film works so well because inside of its comedic shell is an emotional core that makes the film relatable, and in some lights, inspirational.
Spending the last decade directing a mixed bag of independent films, James Franco proves to be the only person who can truly direct The Disaster Artist because in many ways you can tell he identifies with Tommy Wiseau. We all do and should, in fact. Wiseau has earned more than a few of the jokes that have come his way, but Franco makes sure to maintain a tone of reverence for the character rather than just treating him like a comedic punching bag. We see the motivations and dreams of the man rather than just what his final product was. As a critic, I always feel it is important to judge a film not only by its final execution, but also its intention, and Franco wants you to do the same. Franco is able to create a harmonious balance in the film that manages to keep the humor that we have come to love/hate from The Room with a sentimental exposition of a person (Wiseau) we are only now truly getting to know.
The performances are what truly sell this film, bringing together actors that have experience with comedic timing and dramatic depth. Yes, the cast is mostly made up of the usual actors/friend group we have come to expect from a James Franco/Seth Rogen production, but that doesn’t diminish the film in any way. If anything, having the likes of Dave Franco, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, and Zac Efron in the film gives it a natural, effortless rapport that you might not otherwise get from a group of actors that don’t already enjoy working together. This film’s obvious standout is Franco with his respectful portrayal of Tommy Wiseau.
Much like his directing tone, James isn’t looking to create a parody of a person, but to show a deeper understanding and insight behind the man that created the “worst film ever made”. James portrays Wiseau with a complex purity we may have not otherwise known that Wiseau possessed. Wiseau isn’t like the rest of us. In fact, he’s better than most of us. His earnest straightforwardness and completely fearless approach to life is something we should all strive for and is exactly what led him to follow his dreams and create a film that we all bittersweetly enjoy. James respects Wiseau because in many ways he has the same approach to films, working on passion project after passion project. The Disaster Artist makes a case for bad films everywhere by proving that some good (in this case great) can come from even the worst of them.
This is a reprint from the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. To read further TIFF 2017 coverage, go here.