To fully enjoy The Disaster Artist, you need not have already seen The Room—auteur-actor Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 self-financed, self-released, so-bad-it’s-brilliant whatchamacallit that slowly amassed a cult following, especially in L.A.
But, come on. If you haven’t indulged yourself, why not grab the chance to experience one of Hollywood’s most stupefying, unintentionally funny, astonishing exercises in over-confidence and self-delusion? Strictly from the heart but also strictly from hunger, The Room serves up a screen full of Wiseau, a decidedly unusual movie presence of uncertain age with dead-white Dracula-esque skin, shoulder-length dyed-black hair and an Eastern European accent he chalks up to having lived in New Orleans. The movie, in which Wiseau appears more like a hapless, blundering intruder than a leading man, is a comic goldmine of wooden acting, weird pacing, and haplessly cockamamie plot developments. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls and Leprechaun, it’s best to see The Room with a live audience full of wisenheimers, round midnight preferably, to fully appreciate it in all its WTF train wreck glory.
Now, back to The Disaster Artist. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now) adapted it for the big screen based on a memoir by Greg Sistero who, as a handsome, minimally talented 19-year-old budding actor, met in acting class and became friends with the bizarre, also talentless Wiseau. The movie kicks off with a scene in a San Francisco acting class in which Wiseau shows himself as fearlessly uninhibited and gonzo onstage as Sistero was stiffly self-conscious and constricted on camera. Relocating to Hollywood but unable to score acting jobs, the mysteriously deep-pocketed, volatile, lonely, James Dean-wannabe Wiseau decides to create his own magnum opus, putting his roomie, bud and object of kind-of obsession Sistero in one of the leading roles.
In its own macroscopic, insular way, The Disaster Artist is as much a tribute to Hollywood’s losers, lovers and dreamers as was La La Land.
The Disaster Artist tells the comically nightmarish backstage story of the torturous making of The Room, with dead-on shot-by-shot scene redos, not only of how *The Room *got to be Wiseau’s folly but also how the affectionate but baffled Sistero (nicely played by Dave Franco) and Wiseau (James Franco) drifted apart when the younger of the two found an agent (Sharon Stone as Iris Burton), a few minor acting gigs, a girlfriend (Alison Brie) and interests beyond his eccentric, isolated would-be mentor.
The movie is shaggy, amiable, often lovable but slight and repetitive. It aspires to be a loving-comic portrait of old Hollywood and a kind of companion piece to Ed Wood but it falls way short of the savagery, smarts, knowhow, and poetry of director Tim Burton’s take on a knowing, certifiably great screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. (James Franco himself has admitted that Wiseau himself wanted Ed Wood star Johnny Depp, not Franco, to play him.)
That’s not to say that The Disaster Artist isn’t enjoyable. It features a good role for Seth Rogen as one of Wiseau’s most exasperated crew members, a constant parade of cameos from Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, Melanie Griffith, Megan Mullaly, Hannibal Buress, Josh Hutcherson, Judd Apatow and more, and is, in its own macroscopic, insular way, as much a tribute to Hollywood’s losers, lovers and dreamers as was La La Land. Franco has often played roles with a smirk barely hidden, but that’s gone here. He seems focused, deadly funny, and completely on it. He’s directed it and also plays the misfit Wiseau (often, brilliantly) in such a way that the movie actually becomes inspirational and emotionally affecting. It’s a professional and personal triumph for the reinvigorated Franco. And, for his performance alone, *The Disaster Artist *is one of the moviegoing season’s bigger pleasures.
Read more of Stephen Rebello’s movie reviews here.