Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver
Director: James Franco
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
The Room is one of those movies that really has to be seen to be believed. It is a movie that fundamentally does not work on any conceivable level, and yet it is so remarkably unique, mesmerising and endlessly rewatchable. It is one of the great cinematic paradoxes; The Room is a terrible film, but it is also great cinema. If you asked the greatest director in the world to make the worst movie of all time, they couldn’t get any closer to making this film than Gus Van Sant could get to making Psycho. Genius (or maybe ‘anti-genius’ in this case) is something that cannot be replicated, it can only be imitated. There is something there behind the shots and between the edits that cannot be faked, a sense of effort and sincerity that only comes across when the artist truly believes in what they are making. With The Disaster Artist, James Franco takes us behind the scenes to show us what was really going on beneath it all.
The movie follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the author of the book the movie is based on, as a young actor in San Francisco. At one of his acting classes he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a strange-looking man with a weird accent who inspires Greg with his fearlessness. As soon as the two become friends, Tommy suggests that they move to Los Angeles to try and make it big. There Greg signs up with renowned talent agent Iris Burton (Sharon Stone) while Tommy gets turned down by everyone he approaches. Later he grows jealous of Greg as he enters a relationship with Amber (Alison Brie) and becomes more disheartened with every rejection. As Greg’s auditions start drying up, he reaches out to Tommy, who then decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movie. Thus he writes The Room, a drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, and offers Greg a prominent part. Together they set about making this movie with the help of Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), the script supervisor, and Raphael Smadja (Paul Sceer), the cinematographer. As the chaotic production proceeds and unravels, only Tommy seems blind to the horrendous quality of the movie they’re making.
The obvious comparison here is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a movie that celebrates the director who made another movie often proclaimed as ‘the worst ever made’. And ‘celebrate’ really is the right word because what made Ed Wood a great movie was the way it admired Wood’s passion, sincerity and optimism, even as it understood that the movie he was making was rubbish. That same feeling of admiration is present in The Disaster Artist. There’s a scene where Tommy and Greg stand on the sight of James Dean’s fatal car crash and are inspired to follow his example and show the world what they can do, no matter the obstacles. That scene is there because the movie doesn’t want us to laugh at these two for making a crap movie, it wants us to identify with them and root for them to make the movie that, for better or worse, would make them both stars. Tommy may be the Disaster Artist, but he is also a dreamer and it is clear from watching this movie just how much James Franco admires that dream.
Tommy Wiseau with his unidentifiable accent, ambiguous age, and vampiric demeanour is very much an enigma to those who’ve seen him and his movie, and one of Franco’s successes is finding the human being within that enigma. He still allows us to laugh at Wiseau’s strangeness because, to put it simply, he is a very strange person. He insists that he’s from New Orleans despite not sounding like anything from planet Earth, he appears to be infinitely wealthy but cannot seem to explain where the money comes from, and he claims to be the same age as the twenty-something Greg even though, well, look at him! He’s also at the very least sexually ambiguous and the nature of his feelings towards Greg are never made very clear but are enough to raise some red flags with those around them (what with the way he keeps calling him ‘babyface’ and all). There’s also a monstrous side to Wiseau that comes out in his attempt to be the next Kubrick or Hitchcock which Franco showcases in one particularly revealing scene where Tommy mistreats his co-star Julliette Danielle (Ari Graynor). Yet, beneath all of that, Franco is able to find a vulnerable, insecure side to Tommy, someone who wants nothing more than to be admired and celebrated. It is a wonderful performance.
There is tragedy to The Disaster Artist, but from that tragedy comes laughter. The movie Wiseau made may not have been received the way he’d hoped and he may not be the enigmatic, inspired auteur he wanted to be, but through all the heartbreak and humiliation he made a movie that has brought endless joy to millions of people all over the world. To see just how much of a cult following The Room has gathered, look no further than the number of celebrities who join Franco in his celebration. This includes the likes of Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, and Kevin Smith, who all appear in the opening montage to discuss The Room and the impact it’s had, and also Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, Hannibal Buress, and Bob Odenkirk, who all make cameos. It’s a movie which reminds us that there is inspiration to be found not only in the greatest successes but also in the greatest failures, and The Room might very well be the greatest failure in the history of cinema.