The Disaster Artist Film Review
‘What a movie, James!’
Everyone knows where they were when they first saw Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. It’s a movie so profoundly bad that witnessing it is an event, something stuck out of time like a traumatic experience or a treasured memory (The Room is a little of both). I saw it at a mate’s place, when word of this magnificent blunder was getting around our high school. My friend had a newspaper clipping of the film next to his desk, documenting Wiseau’s meteoric rise as a purveyor of something truly special, even if it weren’t exactly the kind of attention most directors hope for. We watched the film, admittedly fast forwarding to the most infamous parts (the flower shop scene, the football scene, Johnny being torn apart by Lisa) and for years afterward, and to this day, we quote it, as much as we quote the movies and TV shows we genuinely love.
James Franco has made The Disaster Artist from a similar concoction of feelings. He knows the movie is terrible, but it’s a special kind of terrible, one that deserves attention. How did this thing happen? What was it like off set, when Tommy walked out onto the terribly green-screened rooftop insisting that he didn’t hit his girlfriend, in what might be the most absurdly, cosmically bad line-reading of all time? Journalist Tom Bissel and The Room co-star Greg Sestero divulged a lot of this in their book, but Franco saw in the story something cinematic.
The film is about Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) as a young, insecure actor who needs some inspiration. After getting excoriated by an acting teacher due to a particularly lifeless reading of Waiting for Godot, Tommy Wiseau descends the auditorium stairs and does what is arguably a rendition of Brando’s ‘Stella’ scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, but it’s more a mishmash of moans and groans and a half-arsed attempt to climb the scaffolding and jump off. This is our first introduction to J. Franco’s Wiseau, and it’s an interesting one. There’s no doubt he’s is pitch-perfect as Wiseau, but his performance embodies that weird experience of joyfully watching something very bad. To convey Wiseau, especially Wiseau ‘acting’, J. Franco has to be bad at what he is doing, and so what you’re watching is an excellent performance of bad acting. His intonations are all inexplicably placed, his accent is peculiar, and his physical acting reflects that of a festival-goer stumbling out of his tent to throw up after an all-night bender.
Despite this exhibitionistic display of awfulness, Greg sees something in Tommy approaches him after class. They get to know each another, their friendship beginning with a wonderful scene in a diner. Sitting across from each other in the busy restaurant, Tommy reads with Greg from Shakespeare. This proves to be exactly the lesson Greg needs, because Tommy’s repeated admonishments that Sestero be louder and project more, force him to overcome his shyness. It’s great to see D. Franco in this role, because it honestly feels like the first time the less famous brother has been cast in something that really works for him. His slimy bullying characters in 21 Jump Street and Neighbours always fell uncomfortably between villainous and likeable, but here he fully embodies the unquestioning naivety of a young actor who needs a mentor.
Pretty soon the two are off to LA to stay in Tommy’s apartment and become big stars. SNL-alums and American comedy actors wander in and out of the film, with appearances by Jason Mantzoukas as the perplexed film equipment salesperson dealing with Tommy Wiseau, Seth Rogen as the perfectly droll and fed-up script supervisor, Nathan Fielder as the cringingly wooden ‘Peter’ (he’s the guy who falls over during the ‘football in tuxedos’ scene) and an underused Alison Brie as Greg’s sceptical girlfriend. The actors aren’t here to steal the scenes and ad-lib in front of the camera for the precious 30 seconds they get, as is so common with American ensemble comedies, they’re simply here to do their jobs. For comedians, being a part of The Room is probably like the big name actors playing costumed bit-parts in The Force Awakens: it’s enough just to be there.
Most of the infamous scenes are covered in the eventual making of Wiseau’s masterpiece, with some uncomfortable onset aggression that played a little weirdly for laughs. Wiseau’s behaviour during the sex scene with ‘Lisa’ (Ari Graynor) given recent revelations about sexual misconduct. Still, despite an occasionally confusing tone, The Disaster Artist works as a film made for fans, by someone who understands what those fans love. On top of that, it’s an uplifting film about perseverance and one of the funniest comedies of the year.
Feature image via indiewire.com