D: James Franco / 103m
Cast: Dave Franco, James Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Paul Scheer, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder, Megan Mullally, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Bryan Cranston
Every now and then a movie comes along that defies both its own creation and its own inherent drawbacks to achieve cult status amongst movie fans. Instead of disappearing into obscurity, perhaps never to be seen again (or only in the early hours of the morning on channels such as Movies 4 Men when they haven’t got a poorly dubbed spaghetti western to show) some movies take on a life and a reputation all their own, and succeed against – or in spite of – all the odds. One such movie is The Room (2003), written, produced, directed by and starring Tommy Wiseau. Generally regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, and critically lambasted on its initial release, The Room plays regularly at midnight showings throughout the US, and has the kind of dedicated fans who dress up like their favourite characters and throw items at the screen at relevant moments. Think The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), but without the wit or the ingenuity (or indeed, the songs).
Wiseau made the movie with and for his friend, Greg Sestero, who eventually wrote about his experiences being Wiseau’s best friend, and making The Room, in a book called, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made. And now we have an adaptation of that book, and a recreation of the making of the movie, that is both entertaining and irresistible. In the hands of James Franco, The Disaster Artist is a fresh, appealing movie that looks at the dangers of following your dreams, and how those dreams can become the source of bitterness and disappointment. It’s a movie that works on a number of levels, and thanks to a perceptive screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, it’s a fully rounded piece that embraces drama, comedy, and darker facets of both in its tale of deluded ambition.
The movie begins in 1998, with Tommy (James Franco) and Greg (Dave Franco) meeting at acting classes and forming a strange, unorthodox friendship. Tommy is secretive and elusive, making out that he’s from New Orleans when he clearly has an Eastern European accent, and insisting that he’s the same age as Greg when clearly he’s much older. There’s also the matter of his being independently wealthy. Where does his money come from? Nobody knows. They move to Los Angeles, where they both try to break into Hollywood. Greg quickly gains an agent (Stone) but finds his career stalling just as quickly. Tommy remains unemployable as an actor, but can’t understand why. All he sees is his talent going unrecognised. Eventually they decide to make a movie on their own, a movie that will star Tommy and Greg and make their fortune. Tommy writes the script, and in 2002, production begins. And what a production it proves to be…
This being a good movie about the making of a bad movie, it’s tempting to wonder just how accurate this movie is in recreating the details of the production itself. There are moments of pure comedy, such as shooting Tommy’s first scene (“What is line?”), or the awkward mechanics of a sex scene (“Why is he having sex with her belly button? He knows where her vagina is, right?”), but there are also much darker moments when Tommy behaves like a dictator and riles the crew with his indifference and misplaced anger. It’s at these moments that Tommy is shown as a selfish, manipulative child, and none more so than when he refuses to let Greg have a day off to appear in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle (and at the request of Bryan Cranston himself). Tommy’s jealous intransigence casts a sallow light on his behaviour and his character, but it’s a measure of both the script and Franco’s performance that Tommy remains a figure to pity rather than be angry with.
What comes across is the importance of his friendship with Greg and the determination to make the movie he wants to make. When challenged about his on-set behaviour, Tommy cites Hitchcock and Kubrick as directors who didn’t care about their actors, but without realising that they had talent to make up for their callow attitudes. At every turn, Tommy doesn’t understand anything about what he’s doing, and he can’t see that the decisions he’s making are undermining almost everything that he’s trying to do. Everyone around him sees this, but Tommy’s insecurity won’t let him acknowledge it. He’s a lonely man looking for approbation, and though his friendship with Greg goes some way to meeting his emotional needs, it’s a much wider appreciation that he’s searching for. And the movie makes it clear that this is the dream he really has; the movie is just a means to that end. Franco nails the accent, and Wiseau’s own off-centre thought processes, and gives one of his best performances: at times sad, defensive, jealous – of Greg’s relationship with girlfriend, Amber (Brie) – antic, effusive, melodramatic, and emotionally shallow.
He’s matched by an intuitive and likeable portrayal of Greg by his younger brother, and there are plenty of enjoyable supporting performances, including Rogen as the script supervisor who becomes the de facto director when Tommy is “acting”, and Graynor as the female lead who possesses the aforementioned “belly button”. Elsewhere there are plenty of cameos and talking heads (at the beginning) to keep viewers on their toes, but it’s the recreation of those hectic days when The Room was being shot that proves the most compelling, and Franco the director assembles it all with an eye for the absurdity of it all and the misguided passion that pushed Wiseau to make the movie in the first place. An auteur’s folly, then, but one that has survived and prospered over the years, and which has afforded Wiseau exactly what he wanted: recognition. But as The Disaster Artist proves, passion without talent is just passion, and dreams often require luck as well as a determination to succeed.
Rating: 8/10 – a wonderfully bizarre tale given the kind of respectful treatment that only highlights how unlikely it all was at the time, The Disaster Artist doesn’t need anyone to see The Room before watching it, as the off-camera turmoil is captured with aplomb by Franco and his cast and crew; a testament to the power of friendship (and pinky swears), as well as not giving up on your dreams, this is also a cautionary tale about what can happen when ambition becomes obsession, and the pursuit of fame turns everything (temporarily) sour.