Film Review: The Disaster Artist

Actor-Director James Franco Transforms Into Actor-Director Tommy Wiseau

Devin D. O'Leary
5 min read
The Disaster Artist
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If you’ve never seen The Room, the infamous 2003 cult film from alleged writer-director-actor Tommy Wiseau, it’s pretty hard to describe. It’s also sort of pointless to do so, since none of the film’s appeal lies in its poorly constructed romantic drama. Nonetheless, it has generated a fiercely loyal audience—particularly, it seems, among Hollywood actors, who relish it for its liberating lack of anything resembling acting, scripting, directing and other filmmaking niceties. So, despite the fact that it’s regarded as one of the worst films ever made, it’s no real surprise to see well-known Hollywood actors clamoring over one another to appear in a biopic about the inscrutable Mr. Wiseau and his “film.”

The parade is led by James Franco, who never met an oddball he didn’t like. Franco stars, of course, as our man Tommy and also handles directing duties. The film is based on Greg Sestero’s book
The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. Sestero, played here by Dave Franco, is a struggling young actor in San Francisco. “Struggling” hardly seems a powerful enough word, however. Sestero is a terrible actor, barely able to croak out a line of dialogue in his bargain-basement acting class. Sestero’s mysterious, sunglasses-wearing classmate Tommy Wiseau, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It’s all the instructor can do to keep Tommy from literally climbing the scenery and screaming his lines from the top of the light rack.

Tommy is a man of few words—few understandable ones anyway. Despite a thick Eastern European accent, Tommy constantly claims to be from “Louisiana.” He also insists he’s “the same age” as Sestero—despite having a couple decades on the kid. He casually mentions that money is no problem for him and that he only acts out of pure love for the art form. Although he has the distinct air of a bullshit artist about him, the one thing Tommy does not lack is confidence. And it’s this unshakable self-assuredness—misplaced as it might be—that attracts Sestero to him.

Eventually the two talk one another into moving to Los Angeles to pursue their dream of becoming actors in the film industry. (Tommy, ever the mystery, just happens to own an unused apartment there.) Sadly, their enthusiasm does not translate to work. Sestero is handsome enough to land a low-rent modeling gig here and there, but casting directors have no idea what to do with his mumble-mouthed, aging hipster friend. (Tommy insists he’s leading man material, but most casting directors see him as “the vampire rapist.”) On the verge of quitting and going back to San Francisco, Sestero and Tommy come up with the brilliant idea of making their own independent film.

Thus begins the chaos-filled creation of
The Room—a process aided and abetted by a Franco’s celebrity pals, who show up for a string of winking cameos (Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Megan Mullaly, Bret Gelman, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk and Judd Apatow among them). Tommy goes out and buys a bunch of film cameras, gathers some actors and starts shooting his dream project. Like you do. What follows is a mad catalogue of cluelessness, hubris, stumbling ambition and an utter lack of skill. And yet, there’s something admirable about The Disaster Artist’s unshakable love for the movie industry.

In this oversaturated era of CGI actors, Netflix, Harvey Weinstein and endless
Transformers movies, it’s easy to forget that Hollywood was once a dream factory to which every starry-eyed kid in America aspired. Despite the fact that none of the characters on screen has any idea what they’re doing and that the grand work of art their collaborating on is destined to become a legendary laughing stock, the myth of fame and fortune and shiny stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame remains a powerful narcotic.

The Disaster Artist has more than a touch in common with Tim Burton’s loving ode to terrible filmmaking, Ed Wood. Whereas Ed was a lovable outcast surrounding himself with like-minded misfits, however, Tommy is a sunglasses-wearing weirdo angrily barking unintelligible orders at people. Is The Disaster Artist an accurate portrait of Tommy Wiseau and the creation of his goofball magnum opus or just another chapter in the filmmaker’s incomprehensible self-portrait? Asking the question misses the point. Tommy is Tommy. Leave him his affectations, his wardrobe and his questionable backstory. Franco, for his part, is hilarious inhabiting the brooding, deluded Wiseau’s ’80s rocker hairdo and excessive collection of leather belts.

Like Mel Brooks’
The Producers with an extra dose of pathos in the mix, The Disaster Artist is both a hilarious comedy of errors and a touching love letter to Hollywood. Add to that The Disaster Artist’s meta-humorous “film within a film”/“good actors playing bad actors” japery, and you’ve got the makings of a cult film about making a cult film.
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