There’s something incredibly endearing about terrible films. That’s not to say The Disaster Artist is a terrible film, in fact it’s a delightful one, but it’s about the making of a terrible film. More specifically Tommy Wiseau’s bizarrely awful The Room, which has a well-deserved reputation as one of the worst films ever made but a devoted cult following due to audience participation screenings and ridiculously quotable dialogue. The true story of how it was made is so absurd and hilarious that the filmmakers have even had to change moments from the book, written by one of the stars of The Room, seemingly because no one would believe it really happened.
James Franco directs and stars as Tommy Wiseau, the man who directed and stared in The Room. Hard to tell if that was a deliberate artistic choice by Franco to help him get in character, but if it was then it worked. Franco’s performance is hysterically funny at times and completely unrestrained, going so far as to perform one of the film’s most dramatic moments almost fully naked with just a pouch covering his, um, Franco. Yet he avoids making the man seem cartoonish, and anyone who’s seen footage of Wiseau himself will recognise how accurate Franco’s portrayal is. While a celebration of Wiseau’s film, The Disaster Artist also highlights his flaws, as he’s frequently seen to be insensitive, cruel, deluded, incompetent, and almost impossible to work with. The remarkable thing is how much sympathy I still had for him by the time the film is done, which is a testament to both Franco’s performance and directing.
Any character as absurd as Tommy Wiseau needs a Straight Man to balance them out, which Dave Franco does as the idealistic young actor Greg Sestero, who wrote the book the film is based on. The friendship between Sestero and Wiseau forms the crux of the film as the two encourage one another to pursue their dreams. The brother’s real life relationship works as one of The Disaster Artist’s biggest strengths, selling the idea that no matter how tense the relationship between Tommy and Greg may get they will still help and support each other. The younger Franco brings to the role the optimistic enthusiasm and idealism of a young man convinced they could do anything, but slowly comes to realise that they probably can’t. There are definite similarities to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood and Johnny Depp’s cheerful determination as the title character, once named the worst director of all time, though while Burton’s film ends as the premier of Plan 9 From Outer Space starts, Franco keeps the audience watching so we see Wiseau and Sestero’s very real pain and humiliation as their film is publicly ridiculed.
Despite this, The Disaster Artist isn’t a film about making something terrible. It’s instead a celebration of the act of making something at all. One of the things I found most pleasantly surprising about this film is that at no point does it feel mean or mocking towards Wiseau and The Room, opening with a montage of some of Hollywood’s biggest names expressing their genuine love and admiration for it. One of them even notes that the best directors in the world wouldn’t be able to recapture the mysterious magic that’s made The Room so endearingly awful.
Just before the end credits roll for The Disaster Artist we see footage from the real film, faithfully recreated by a professional crew and some of the most talented comedic actors in Hollywood. The recreations are lacking something about the original scenes that makes them so endlessly watchable and entertaining – Wiseau’s own brand of incompetent brilliance. Perhaps Franco and his team are just too good to be bad.
4 and a half stars.