It’s a film about the making of arguably the worst movie ever made. That is how the team behind “The Disaster Artist” will hope to sell it to a public that may have yet to experience the wonder of Tommy Wiseau‘s self-financed passion project, “The Room.” Just as “Plan 9 from Outer Space” had Tim Burton‘s “Ed Wood“ and “Troll 2” had Michael Paul Stephenson‘s documentary, “Best Worst Movie,” so now does “The Room” have James Franco‘s “The Disaster Artist.” How it will play to the uninitiated remains a legitimate question, but one thing is for certain: its base are going to be in Valhalla.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) was just a struggling acting student when the man with the long black hair and a mysterious accent volunteered himself to perform Stanley Kowalski in front of the class. It was the sheer bravado of his awful interpretation of the big scene that inspired Greg to pursue that passion for the craft he saw in Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). They became quick friends and promised to push each other to reach their Hollywood dreams.
Greg had a look that could get him in the door, but Tommy was an enigma. Independently wealthy, he could afford apartments in L.A. and San Francisco but urged his new friend never to discuss him with anyone. When their bond begins to bend over Tommy’s repeated failures and Greg’s new relationship with bartender Amber (Alison Brie), inspiration strikes. Tommy takes day and night to his typewriter to craft the script that would eventually become his minimum opus.
From here on out, the film begins to document the bizarre production tales that made up “The Room” and it plays all the greatest hits. The drug dealer, “You’re tearing me apart,” Tommy’s infamous use of the red dress as a prop and, of course, “Hi, Mark.” These are the staples of what countless midnight moviegoers show up for to laugh at or with. Even as a newbie to the direct experience of seeing the film (and reading the book) in the last year, I was just as stricken with laughter as all the fans. But precisely how does that translate to everyone else other than selling the absurd behavior through the priceless reactions on set, most notably by Seth Rogen, perfectly cast as the film’s beleaguered script supervisor.
Franco opens the film with a group of testimonials by celebrities who try to explain their love of “The Room.” Aside from giving the film some credence as to how far-reaching this phenomenon goes, it’s a risky gambit to have such high-profile faces lead the chorus over an amateur filmmaker’s shortcomings. Both Franco and Rogen have expressed their intention to never look down on Wiseau or simply craft a piece of entertainment dedicated to making fun of him. That is a fine line to walk, but with Sestero’s book as a guidepost, they are able to empathize with Tommy’s insecurities while embracing his flawed ambition.
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s screenplay surprisingly leaves out some key themes that would have been fascinating to explore in fleshing out the real Tommy Wiseau. Not that Sestero’s book had all the answers which could be presumably why the mystery behind Wiseau’s age and Coneheads-esque originations remain only as throwaways. But the impracticality of Tommy lying about it invokes the very real stigma of growing old in Hollywood, particularly for women. Tommy’s script is also a very real doppelganger for instances he classifies as betrayals against him, not to mention a particular viewpoint towards women. Sestero postulated his theories over time while “The Disaster Artist” has one moment when one of the actresses spells it all out.
These omissions make sense if it is the natural next step in preserving Tommy’s wishes for privacy, but they could have been used to make the movie version even more sympathetic. That being said, James Franco absolutely disappears into the role of Tommy to the point where it’s impossible to see where the makeup ends and any of the actor still remains. It is his best performance since his Oscar-nominated turn in “127 Hours” and as a director it is nice to finally seem him embrace the comfort zone of comedy with enough cameos to rival Robert Altman’s “The Player.”
It will be interesting to see how outsiders will react to another behind-the-scenes tell-all, especially as some of the film’s best jokes derive from questions that first-time viewers of “The Room” have while watching. (Just what is Danny’s relationship to Johnny? What happened to the breast cancer? Does Tommy know where a vagina is?) If “The Disaster Artist” does anything, it will likely inspire folks to seek out “The Room.” Not only would that make Tommy very happy, but it will make them want to watch Franco’s Tommy and further appreciate what a brilliant job he did in recreating the experience for its fans. It will be there from which the love grows and Franco will truly have succeeded in what he set out to make. [B+]