The Room is the most curious of pop culture artefacts. Written, produced, directed, and starring Tommy Wiseau, the film is considered to be the most enjoyable bad movie of all time. As howlingly awful as The Room is, this description does have a ring of truth to it. So much of the “film” is enjoyable because it’s a funhouse mirror of a traditional angry young man narrative. So, when it was announced that James Franco would be directing an adaptation of The Disaster Artist: a book telling the story of the films production through the eyes of Wiseau’s friend and co-star Greg Sestero, and starring as Wiseau himself, The Room thundered back into the cultural landscape once again.
Given how utterly bizarre The Room is, a movie about how it was made isn’t going to be as interesting as the finished product. That’s not to say that The Disaster Artist isn’t a good film, it is, but nothing can recapture the garbage magic of the finished product. In many ways, The Disaster Artist is a traditional Hollywood comedy, with a plot we have seen many times before.
Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, a struggling actor and model. During an acting class he comes across Tommy Wiseau, totally embodied by James Franco, and the two hit it off. Tommy has a freedom and braveness that Greg craves, and they quickly bond over their shared dreams of success and a mutual love of James Dean. The first third of the film takes place in San Francisco and charts the progression of Tommy and Greg’s friendship. They seem to bring out the best in each other, and when Tommy suggests moving to Los Angeles, Greg jumps at the chance. After both actors get chewed up and spat out by Hollywood, Tommy suggests they make their own movie, which Tommy will write and fund with his mysterious millions.
The main draw of the film is James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is a consistently mysterious figure, with many of the films characters pointing out that he doesn’t make much sense. No one knows what age he is, where he gets his money, or where he’s really from, all of which makes him the kind of real-life accident that is a gift for an actor to play. With his flowing black hair, new romantic dress sense, and an accent that is definitely not from New Orleans, Franco disappears into Tommy much like Jim Carrey did with Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon.
Like Carrey and Kaufman, its easy to see what attracts James Franco to someone like Tommy Wiseau. Both consider themselves to be multi-talented filmmakers: capable of writing, directing, and starring in great American movies. Hell, James Franco even played James Dean. The irony is that out of all of the films Franco has directed, which is 16, his best-known film will be about Wiseau, where as Wiseau’s directorial debut is more famous than all of Franco’s previous efforts as a director.
It’s in the director’s chair that Franco nearly runs The Disaster Artist off the rails. On a technical level some of his choices are too distracting. His decision to shoot much of the action in a hand-held, documentary format makes for an unfocused watch. The other major problem is The Room itself. Instead of telling the more compelling story of the artistic struggle of a man that doesn’t understand his own art, and the breakdown of friendships that this causes, The Disaster Artist would rather just recreate the Room shot for sot, because funny.
It’s far from perfect, and maybe more badly filmed than the film it’s celebrating, but a stand out James Franco performance makes The Disaster Artist far from a disaster.