For the novice, 2003’s The Room is something of a masterpiece — albeit a complete and utter clusterfuck. Depending on who you ask, The Room might be considered quasi-autobiographical, but not even the film’s writer, director, producer, and star Tommy Wiseau would be able to confirm or deny whether that’s true. Perhaps Hollywood’s most eccentric underdog, Wiseau is a total enigma. His slurred, novocaine cadence and accent of untraceable geographic and ethnic origin (along with the fact that he is the source of the $6 million used to fund the production and distribution of the movie) overshadow his many minute quirks, like wearing sunglasses at all hours of the day.
In The Room, Wiseau crafts a wildly incoherent story of an “all-American guy” Johnny (played by a very Wiseau-ian Wiseau) whose world is turned upside down by betrayal and infidelity between his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Riddled with continuity errors, plot holes, and, well, Denny, The Room was not supposed to be funny. Hell, it probably wasn’t even supposed to be seen. Yet the film would go on to become a cult midnight-movie hit, even inspiring elaborate audience-participation rituals à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
To tell the story behind the phenomenon, Sestero (not just Wiseau’s co-star but also, eventually, his real-life best friend) teamed up with journalist Tom Bissell to write 2013’s The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. The memoir chronicles the making of The Room and the turbulent, co-dependent relationship that developed between Sestero and Wiseau. Sestero bravely casts his retelling as an ode to his own ineptitude as an actor, and along the way manages to capture the dark side of a seemingly hilarious tale of Hollywood dreamers that may have otherwise gotten lost.
Then comes James Franco.
Truly meta in nature, The Disaster Artist — the film adaptation of a book about a movie — is a trifle thoughtfully layered with reality, fiction, humility, and a healthy serving of self-indulgence that extends beyond the plot of The Room or the chronology laid forth in Sestero’s book.
Take actor, director, and now passable Tommy Wiseau impersonator James Franco. Franco, who has dabbled in a slew of abysmally received efforts at writing, directing, and starring in his own projects (several of which flirt with lower Rotten Tomatoes ratings than The Room) steers The Disaster Artist away from exploitative mockery into a tender tribute with help from screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.
Franco’s Wiseau is nothing short of kind as he scratches the surface of Tommy’s distinct marble-mouthed accent, yet channels his well-documented jealous anger and vampire-esque mannerisms faithfully, and without use of cruel caricature. Franco enlists brother Dave to play Greg Sestero in the film, who manages to capture the unremarkable nuances of the struggling actor with a genuine tenderness, and it is arguably baby Franco’s peak performance to date. Cameos from Judd Apatow, Megan Mullally, Melanie Griffith, and Hannibal Buress (to name a few) bring additional levity to the meta-movie, but it is the sensitive recasting of The Room’s original no-name stars that reiterates the good intentions of the Franco-fied opus, with Seth Rogen stepping in as script supervisor Sandy Schklair and Ari Graynor taking on the role of the red dress-wearing heartbreaker Lisa. The caveat? The Disaster Artist is not bad enough to be good-bad, nor good enough to outshine The Room. As a companion piece, however, The Disaster Artist is as special as they come.
The heartbeat of the film might be the behind-the-scenes reenactment of The Room’s most beloved moments. Franco’s Wiseau stumbles onto a green-screen set of a rooftop and struggles to remember a painfully simple piece of dialogue: “I did not hit her! It’s bullshit! I did nooot. Oh hi, Mark!” The scene, which occupies a mere seven seconds of screen time, reportedly took three hours and 32 takes, which only comes together thanks to the help of an entire cast and crew who fed Wiseau the line word-for-word until he sort of lands it enough to call the scene.
A love letter to a film that made a disappointing $1,900 during its initial two-week run in theaters in 2003, the success of The Disaster Artist is less a thoughtful almost-adaptation and more a testament to one man and his quest for greatness — even if it means being the worst of the best.