30th Nov2017

‘The Disaster Artist’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson | Written by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber | Directed by James Franco


It doesn’t get much more meta than a movie adaptation of a memoir about the making of a movie. And not just any movie, but supposedly the Worst Movie Ever Made. In The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 opus, every line of dialogue is a clunker; every character relationship is nonsensical; every plot point is ridiculous; every sex scene is laughable; and every actor is useless – not least its star and auteur, Wiseau himself.

The Disaster Artist was a 2013 memoir written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, and this adaptation focuses on Greg and his strange friendship with Tommy. Wiseau is played with skill and sensitivity by James Franco (who also directs), while brother Dave plays the shyly ambitious Greg. It’s casting which reaps benefits, providing a sweet and very natural chemistry between the leads. It’s their story: Tommy and “Babyface”. From dreaming of celebrity at James Dean’s grave, to the brutal rejections of L.A., to the realisation of their dream: Tommy is the weird whirlwind, and Greg is the one trying to prevent everything from being swept up in his insane bluster.

We join the story in 1998. Greg is failing miserably in an acting class. Suddenly Tommy volunteers to take over. His performance involves wailing and crying about someone called “Della”, before climbing the walls and collapsing in a heap. Greg is transfixed. What unabashed emotional nakedness! They become friends. Tommy unlocks Greg’s shackles, and Greg feels like someone finally believes in him.

The new buddies move to L.A. to tame Hollywood. But it’s a struggle. Greg signs with an agent, but it’s radio silence in terms of acting offers. Tommy has it even worse. He’s mocked in acting class (“You are the villains!” he says of his colleagues, after they suggest he’s more suited to Dracula or Caliban), and humiliated by a producer at a restaurant. So Tommy and Greg decide to make things happen for themselves. Using Tommy’s apparently bottomless wallet, they go about making a movie of their own. A couple of years later, the script is finished, and production on The Room can begin. The second half of The Disaster Artist charts the agonising process of bringing this infamous work to the screen, and the grand premiere of 2003.

How could The Room have cost upwards of six million dollars? Once we see Tommy and Greg blundering into a studio, purchasing their camera stock, and hiring the first crew they meet, it is immediately apparent that don’t know what they’re doing. There are some fun scenes here, like a wonderfully bizarre casting montage, in which a procession of aspiring actresses are asked to mime the saxophone or talk like a cowboy. And we get to play “Spot the Cameo”, as the likes of Sharon Stone, Zak Efron, Melanie Griffith and Bryan Cranston pop up. (There is a certain irony in Franco’s ability to call upon his acting luvvies when making a movie about a Hollywood Billy No-mates.)

The realisation amongst the cast and crew that Tommy has no control, talent or filmmaking nous comes quickly. In response, Tommy’s resentment grows, and most of it is channelled through Greg. The latter hasn’t cast himself as a victim here, but he is presented as a friend in an impossible position: He owes his career to Tommy, but does that mean he should be captive? The problem is that Tommy sees no separation between friendship and filmmaking. Anything Greg does for himself is perceived by Tommy to be a betrayal. It’s a pathological fear which exists at the very core of the film they are attempting to make – which is perhaps proof in itself that The Room was never intended as a comedy.

There is genuine warmth and affection between these friends, but Tommy proves unknowable. The Disaster Artist is not some intimate biopic. Tommy isn’t just a mystery with regard to birthplace (possibly Poland) and age (definitely not twenty-something), but in terms of psychology. Why is Tommy reacting to a story of a woman being beaten by laughing? How much of The Room – in which friendship is vital but betrayal inevitable – is autobiographical? Tommy remains an enigma, and a troubling one. His behaviour on set ranges from the sinister to the downright dangerous. This is not some well-meaning visionary, but a wealthy social pariah who desperately wants others to understand and make sense of his juvenile dreams.

Which means, in the end, there’s a sense of trying to wrench the very best from a bad thing. Ed Wood might have possessed a comparable lack of talent, but we also saw the sacrifices he made and the struggles he had to endure. For the infinitely minted Wiseau, The Room was merely a project of whim which turned into bottled lightning by chance. It makes for a bittersweet triumph, and The Disaster Artist can’t quite convince us that it was the instant camp classic it portrays. That said, even if it is pure fantasy, it’s a well-earned climax.

An incredible montage, in which scenes from the original film run alongside Franco’s shot-for-shot remake, rounds off this funny and affectionate tale of a true Hollywood oddity. It’s a story about two men who snuck past the guardians and broke into the American Dream. It’s heartening, in a way, but also cautionary. It somehow avoids overtly mocking its subject before ultimately concluding that its essential appeal is based on mockery. And for Wiseau, it seems, that’s okay.

The Disaster Artist is out in cinemas from December 6th 2017.


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