Opening Note: Having never read the book, I can only judge the film itself, and will not be making comparisons or holding the film to the standards of the book.
First released in 2003, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was panned by critics and audiences alike due to its nonsensical script, lack of cohesiveness, terrible acting and inconsistencies in its narrative. Prompting the Laemmle Fairfax theatre to display a “NO REFUNDS” sign underneath the film’s poster and a critic to describe watching the film as taxing as “getting stabbed in the head”, The Room looked as if it was destined to fade out of the public eye and be forever forgotten, a not-so-graceful entrance and exit for Wiseau in the film world.
During the sunset of the film’s theatrical release, The Room found audience members attending screenings ironically to mock the film. Somewhere along the line, the irony gradually began changing into genuine enjoyment, as audience members found unintentional humor in the film’s dialogue and inconsistencies. The film’s popularity continued to grow through the years as the film garnered “cult classic” status and is regarded as “the best worst film ever made.”
In 2013, co-star Greg Sestero wrote a book about his time on the set of The Room, detailing its troubled production and Tommy’s misguided approach to handling a film set. Titled The Disaster Artist, Sestero and co-writer Tom Bissell bring to life the problems that plagued The Room behind the scenes, as well as Sestero’s friendship and bond with Tommy himself. Receiving critical and audience acclaim, the book managed shed a new light on The Room and the insanity of Tommy’s vision. In 2014, it was announced that Seth Rogen’s production company Point Grey Pictures announced that it had received the book and film rights to The Disaster Artist, and announced their plan for its theatrical release.
Both directing and starring as the lead character Tommy, James Franco was chosen to helm the production of the film, with Dave Franco later being cast as Greg Sestero. Others began to join the film, such as Seth Rogen (Sandy Schklair), Zac Efron (Dan Janjigian/Chris R.), Alison Brie (Amber) and Josh Hutcherson (Philip Haldiman/Denny). Backed by distribution company A24 (Moonlight, Room, A Ghost Story), all systems were a go.
On its surface, the film is about a man with dreams and an outrageous plan to reach those dreams. The film is much deeper than that, giving us insight into this misguided and lonely person looking for acceptance and love. In the hands of someone with less love for the source material, the film could have easily been a take-down of Tommy and a roast of him and his passion, making the man into a caricature. Heading into the film, I expected a movie glorifying the man and painting him only as this misunderstood hero, and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well Franco portrayed Tommy Wiseau. Teetering the line between “asshole” and “desperate”, Franco plays both sides of Tommy with a convincing passion. Never once did I see Franco on screen and think “I’m watching a James Franco movie.” Franco was Tommy, disappearing into this role and giving it the respect it deserved.
Not shying away from showing Tommy’s obsessive behavior and compulsive need to be in the spotlight, the film absolutely reveals Tommy’s asshole-ish and controlling nature on the set of The Room, but never did it feel inappropriate to the character nor was it just to create dramatic tension. Each outburst, each selfish act by Tommy is coupled with an insightful moment into the character of this alien-like creature of a man. He’s lonely. The film shows that all Tommy ever wanted was friends. To be admired and liked by everyone. Tommy’s attachment to Greg and willingness to bring him along with him to LA isn’t a malicious, calculated move. Greg is the only person to give Tommy his time and affection, and Tommy returns it in his own twisted and misguided sense. A heartbreaking tale of a man chasing companionship, you can’t help but root for Tommy throughout the screw-ups and shady acts he commits throughout the film.
The laughs throughout the film are consistent and hit every single time. In many ways just as quotable as The Room, the events occurring on-screen are just as funny as the delivery of the lines and the lines themselves. While the film could so easily have been a film of us laughing at Tommy, Franco does a spectacular job of getting the audience to side with him and laugh with him. Franco plays the laughs in the film just right but knows when to reel it in and allow time for an emotional moment to hit, with the last 15 or so minutes providing a surprisingly emotional experience like no other this year.
The Disaster Artist is a film with as much passion and heart put into it as The Room once had. A sweet and sincere story with compelling characters, The Disaster Artist is not only a great film on its own, but manages to elevate The Room on subsequent re-watches and provides an insightful commentary and backstory to the film and the man behind it. An incredibly inspiring story, the film manages to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking and shows that you can find success in the most unusual ways.