Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver
There are good films. There are bad films. There are very bad films. And then there are those films so terrible, so awe-inspiringly catastrophic, that they transcend badness and become something else entirely – the so-bad-it’s-good movie. And few representatives of this category are more (in)famous than The Room, a 2005 flick whose stilted acting, bizarre script, nonsensical plotting and startling overall ineptitude saw it become a worldwide phenomenon and made an unlikely star of its director, producer, writer and lead actor, the ultra-eccentric Tommy Wiseau.
The stranger-than-fiction tale of The Room’s production was recounted in a 2013 book, The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero, a friend of Wiseau’s who co-starred in the room. Now, fittingly, it’s made its way back to the Silver Screen in the form of James Franco’s fiercely funny adaptation.
Now we’ll be famous. We’ll show them.
Franco directs, produces and also stars as Wiseau, although unlike Wiseau he leaves the writing to Scott Neustadter and Micahel Weber. His brother Dave plays Greg, a 19-year old would-be actor from San Francisco. Shy and unconfident, Greg is a stiff actor not destined for great things. Then, in acting class one day, he encounters Tommy, whose outrageously over-the-top performance of Marlon Brando’s ‘Stella!’ scene from A Streetcar Named Desire horrifies the rest of the class but inspires Greg. Greg wants Tommy to teach him how to loosen up on stage; the eccentric Tommy, for his part, seems to enjoy having a young protégé to take under his wing.
In an attempt to hit the big time, the pair move to Los Angeles, but their attempts to break into the industry are stymied. Frustrated, they decide to make their own movie. Greg is initially thrilled to get a starring role, but as production begins he quickly realises that Tommy may be in a long way over his head. As the making of The Room increasingly begins to resemble a slow-motion car crash, The Disaster Artist gets funnier and funnier, culminating in a final premiere scene that literally had me crying with laughter.
I wish we could just make our own movie.
The Disaster Artist is undeniably James Franco’s show. As Tommy he is a truly outlandish figure, whose outward self-confidence masks serious internal insecurities and whose attempts to pass himself off as a handsome all-American actor in the James Dean mould – including dyed black hair and an indefinable foreign accept he claims is Louisianan – only serve to highlight just how alien a figure he is. Not for nothing does an acting coach describe him as having ‘a malevolent presence’.
It’s a remarkable performance from Franco, not just because it’s a note-perfect imitation of the real-life Wiseau, but also because he manages to make us care about a man so odd and so difficult – and indeed, as demonstrated by a scene in which he terrorises an actress during a sex scene, one whose behaviour is occasionally monstrous. Franco’s reputation over the last few years has been rather mixed, thanks to a resumé that’s included some crass comedy clangers and more than a few wildly self-indulgent art pieces, but The Disaster Artist demonstrates what a fine actor he can be when he’s on form. This is easily his best performance since 2010’s 127 Hours.
I did not hit her. It’s not true. It’s bullshit! I did not hit her. I did not.
While having seen The Room is not a prerequisite for watching The Disaster Artist, it does perhaps make the experience a more complete one: those unfamiliar with the original film may not catch every in-joke or hilarious reference (and The Room fans should ensure they stick around till the end of the credits). Viewers may also be frustrated by the fact that The Disaster Artist never manages to answer some of the key questions about Tommy’s character, such as where he actually comes from, what age he is, and just where he gets the millions of dollars required for the film’s production, although in fairness those remain pretty unclear in real life. Indeed, as these mysteries contribute significantly to Wiseau’s real-life mystique, maybe solving them would ruin the fun.
Like Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s excellent film about another director famed for the incompetence of his film-making, The Disaster Artist’s mockery of its central character is based in genuine fondness. It displays a certain admiration for Tommy’s drive and never-say-die attitude, no matter how dreadful the end product. The Room’s terribleness has already brought joy to millions. Now the story of the making of one of the worst films ever is one of the best movies of 2017.