The Disaster Artist Director: James Franco
Screenwriter: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver
Distributor: A24 | Warner Bros.
Rated R | 105 Minutes
Release Date: December 8, 2017
“Everybody betrayed me! I’m fed up with this world!”
In 2003, an aspiring actor and filmmaker became a cultural phenomenon with one of the worst movies ever made — The Room, a torrid melodrama about a love triangle between a banker, his deceptive fiancée, and his conflicted best friend. The film was written, directed, and produced by Tommy Wiseau, an enigmatic outsider with dyed-black hair and an impenetrable foreign accent who also stars as the lead, Johnny.
Hollywood’s curiosity in the independent film was piqued when Wiseau erected a billboard to promote his six million dollar passion project, promising a drama on the level of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Now, the unbelievable true story behind The Room — often referred to as “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies” — is chronicled in a movie-about-a-movie directed by James Franco, who also stars as Wiseau.
Based on the best-selling book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, the film stars Dave Franco as Sestero, a 19-year-old aspiring actor who meets the mysterious Wiseau in an acting class. Sestero becomes infatuated with Wiseau’s fearlessness on stage and the two form a strong, albeit bizarre, friendship in their pursuit of creative glory.
The unlikely friends move to Los Angeles to give their careers a chance. After a few weeks, Sestero signs with a talent agency and develops a relationship with a bartender, Amber (Alison Brie). Wiseau, on the other hand, faces rejection from everyone in Hollywood. Growing jealous of Sestero’s personal and professional success, Tommy lashes out at his friend for leaving him behind. But when Sestero’s auditions dry up, the two decide to make a movie together and cast themselves as the leads in the hopes of launching their careers.
And so, The Room was born. Over the next three years, Wiseau writes the script, which he intends to direct and produce himself to maintain creative control. Financing your own movie is something you never do, but the independently wealthy Wiseau visits a production house and insists on purchasing all of the equipment himself, instead of renting it. The employees (Hannibal Buress, Jason Mantzoukas) are happy to oblige and, after selling Wiseau a complete “Beginning Director” suite, offer the budding filmmaker a studio space. They also introduce him to Rafael Smadja (Paul Scheer) and Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), who end up working on The Room as Wiseau’s cinematographer and script supervisor.
Needless to say, the shoot is a complete and total clusterfuck. Wiseau makes one bad decision after another during production, like building sets for sequences that could have been shot on location and filming identical dialogue-heavy scenes multiple times using different sets. Did I mention that he also shot the movie on 35mm film and HD Digital simultaneously? Every single shot of The Room required a custom-built rig that housed both cameras side-by-side and required two crews to operate.
Watching the various members of the film’s supporting cast – played by Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, and Nathan Fielder – attempt to make sense of Wiseau’s script (and his directing style) is a delight. Truly, this is an all-star cast of comedic actors – a modern day Mel Brooks-style spoof on Hollywood and the filmmaking industry. Rogen and Scheer are great, and appearances by Bob Odenkirk, Sharon Stone, and Melanie Griffith, while brief, leave a lasting mark.
As for the Franco brothers, they’re both fantastic here. James Franco’s performance goes beyond merely imitating Wiseau. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, The Disaster Artist is an industry-insider story told by an outsider. And like Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Ed Wood or Martin Landau’s turn as Bela Lugosi, Franco is playing a character that the rest of the world sees as a caricature, and he’s imbuing this very real human being with pathos and a soul. It’s easy to watch The Room and make fun of Wiseau’s shortcomings as an artist, it’s another thing altogether to consider him as a person, and that’s where The Disaster Artist truly soars.
As the director and star, Franco understands the passion and drive that Wiseau has and channels it to create a film that inspires us to dream big and fail epically. The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars) is surprisingly poignant and nuanced, giving us the ability to empathize with the absurd subjects and laugh with them, rather than at them. Like the documentaries Best Worst Movie and American Movie, The Disaster Artist is an enthusiastic and endearing celebration of artistic celebration and, ultimately, the American dream.
One of the best films of the year, Franco’s The Disaster Artist can’t be missed. If you haven’t seen The Room or read Sestero and Bissell’s book, you can still enjoy this hilarious and heartfelt endeavor and who knows, after seeing it you might feel compelled to watch one of the worst movies ever made, or equally compelled to erect a billboard in downtown Los Angeles for your own six million dollar passion project.