Some time around the turn of the millennium, Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau in an acting class. Sestero was mesmerised simultaneously by Wiseau’s peculiarities – his over-the-top acting, his bizarre appearance, his unidentifiable accent and the mystery surrounding his past – and his genuine passion for acting. The two formed a close friendship that eventually resulted in the production of Wiseau’s film The Room (2003).
The film’s production was a disaster. The crew, driven to madness by Wiseau’s endlessly awful technical and artistic choices, were convinced that the film would never be seen. They couldn’t have known it, but they were gravely mistaken. Rediscovered a few years down the line and shown at midnight screenings around the world, The Room went on to become the defining so-bad-it’s-good cult movie of the century.
The Disaster Artist, based on Greg Sestero’s book about the making of The Room, sees brothers James and Dave Franco take on the respective roles of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero. The cast is fleshed out by some familiar faces (Seth Rogan as the despairing script supervisor, Alison Brie as Greg’s girlfriend) as well as some of the best celebrity cameos of recent years (including Bryan Cranston and, er, Zac Efron).
The film has a lot of sympathy for Wiseau, and the jokes never get too malevolent. In fact, the biggest surprise about The Disaster Artist is that it’s less a comedy about the making of The Room than it is a surprisingly sweet ode to losers and underdogs of all kinds.
James Franco misses some of Wiseau’s more nuanced weirdness, but gives such a gleefully bombastic performance that it’s impossible to not enjoy. The film’s only glaring downfall is the two painfully sycophantic framing scenes that bookend the film. The beginning sees celebs including Zach Braff and JJ Abrams fawning over The Room in a desperate attempt to make it uncool, while the end features a sequence of pointless recreations of some of its more famous bits – which serve to rob The Disaster Artist of its own potential cult status.
It’s also interesting to note that, in in portraying Tommy Wiseau as the film’s sole disastermind, Franco and co fail to capture just how terrible The Room really is. Watching the film’s cast and crew bemoan Tommy’s direction is funny, but this ignores, for example, the fact that The Room is out of focus for about a third of its runtime, or that none of the cast could act – least of all Greg Sestero, who is transformed here from idiot accomplice to innocent onlooker.
It’s a little disappointing to see some of the weirder elements of the original film’s production overlooked, most glaringly the framed pictures of cutlery that have inspired the mass throwing of plastic spoons at the screen at screenings of the room. As a comedy-drama, it’s James Franco’s greatest success to date, but those with a more fervent passion for The Room might be a little disappointed.
Image: Justina Mintz, courtesy of A24 and New Line Cinema.