If The Room was an unintentional tribute to the fools who dare to dream, then The Disaster Artist is a very intentional one. But somehow, James Franco’s star-laden biopic about the making of The Room manages to maintain the same intention and earnest nature that made Tommy Wiseau’s unintelligible vision such a beloved staple in the cult cinema world.
The film is based on Greg Sestero’s tell-all book, which details the disastrous making of what’s commonly termed “the worst movie of all time.” It takes us all along the winding, unbelievable path that begins with Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) getting chewed out by an acting teacher (Melanie Griffith, just for good measure) for making a mess of a scene from Waiting for Godot and winds its way up to the fateful release of Tommy Wiseau’s warped vision. It even has it’s own meet cute. Remember that acting class from one sentence ago where Greg was making a mess of Tom Stoppard? Well Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) was in that same class, and where Greg couldn’t bring himself to “let go” in the slightest, Tommy’s bizarro-dramatic take on A Streetcar Named Desire is so unrestrained that it leaves the class at a collective loss, save for Greg, who sees only a man with the confidence he craves. As they say in the classics, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship or something.
And therein lies the jet fuel that propels this tale of blind ambition and relentless self-belief. Greg may be our rational entry-point to this story, but it quickly becomes clear that this is Tommy’s World, and we’re all just living in it. Tommy pulls Greg out of his shell and convinces him that the two of them should move to Los Angeles — after all, he has a place there, so they can just focus on their acting. How and why he has that place, we’ll never know. Just like we’ll never know where he’s from, how he got his money or how old he is. It’s no surprise that Tommy alienates practically everyone he comes into contact with, he’s full of absurd rules that only apply to him and he seems to lack any concept of how to human properly.
It’s not that he’s an asshole (necessarily), it’s just that he tries so hard to be one. He’s the guy you really want to be able to cheer for, but his insistence on ignoring and belittling the people around him in pursuit of the vision that exists only in his head makes it rather difficult to do so. But hey, it gives us some conflict other than his ineptitude, and that’s a good thing.
Because here’s the other thing about The Disaster Artist, watching The Room is the cost of entry to this curious little world. It’s been bandied about that you don’t have to sit through The Room to understand The Disaster Artist, but you absolutely do if you want any hope of appreciating it. Without that context, it would be impossible to understand what hard work all of these talented actors are doing to bring to life a group of people who brought to life the utterly awful work that is The Room. And worse, you’d miss out on the absolute hilarity that comes with insight to the final product. The Disaster Artist is every bit as funny as you want it to be, but it’s also sneakily poignant. If you’ve seen The Room, I don’t have to explain how this group tapped into everything that makes watching it delightful and redoubled it by giving us more fodder. And the less I say about how technical and touching that work is, the more you’ll be able to drink it all in as you watch the disaster unfold.
Come for the absurdity, stay for the absurdity, but along the way, notice the incredible effort that it took to pay tribute to a movie that wouldn’t know production value if it tripped over it. There’s something like brilliance in this study of a man who wanted to make art but only made a mess.