‘The Disaster Artist’ is a triumphant comedic companion to the ‘The Room’
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, and Zac Efron
“The Disaster Artist” – “I did not hit her. It’s not true. It’s b*******. I did not hit her. I did not. Oh, hi Mark.” – Johnny (Tommy Wiseau), “The Room” (2003)
For legions of “The Room” (2003) fans, the aforementioned, nonsensical line of dialogue is just one of 99 moments of cult cinema goodness crammed into a 99-minute runtime. Written, directed, produced, promoted, and starring Tommy Wiseau, “The Room” offers a surreal experience that really cannot be compared to any other, but its popularity - via midnight screenings at art theatres everywhere - rivals “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) and has surely surpassed another guilty pleasure, “Troll 2” (1990).
“The Room” features a love triangle between Johnny, Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and Mark (Greg Sestero) that could probably be ironed out within – oh, I don’t know - 20 minutes of screen time, but somehow the narrative extends to a full feature. A feature film riddled with baffling dialogue choices, plot threads that die in cinematic cul-de-sacs, wooden acting, and a terrible-looking Faux-San Francisco plastered on a green screen. Ten years after the movie’s initial release, Sestero wrote his highly enjoyable, page-turning memoir, The Disaster Artist, which chronicles his unlikely friendship with Wiseau and the more-unlikely making of “The Room”.
Enter James Franco.
Franco owns a well-documented history of taking creative gambles, and in this case, he jumped at the chance to produce, direct and star in the film adaptation of Sestero’s book. The end result? Franco comes up Aces, as he delivers a downright hilarious and immensely entertaining film about the birth and construction of one of the worst movies in recent history.
The picture remains faithful to Sestero’s book, as the story begins in San Francisco where Greg (Dave Franco) and Tommy (James Franco) meet in an acting class. Greg and the entire group of hopeful actors and actresses become hypnotized by Tommy – who sports 80s heavy metal hair and a thick Eastern European accent – and his rendition of Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1952). Greg obviously sees something different in Tommy (and so does everyone else), and since the two share the same goal of making it big in Hollywood, they instantly become friends.
These two buddies take their talents to Los Angeles, and while the much younger Greg scores good business contacts and a girlfriend (Alison Brie), Tommy’s inherent weirdness and curt perspective repels both. With some inspiration from Greg and James Dean, Tommy decides to take matters into his own hands and create his own movie with absolutely zero experience but does offer good old-fashioned blood, sweat and tears.
Tears might be the right word for the cast and crew of “The Room”, because Tommy’s 40-day shoot might induce water works for anyone remotely connected with the industry, and Franco showcases the litany of poor choices to sidesplitting effect. Script writer Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor), Carolyn Minnott (Jacki Weaver), and others on-set wonder in disbelief, while Tommy wishes to make his film his way, and Rogen is especially effective in calling out several baffling turns.
For instance, the crew constructs an alley set, but Sandy simply asks, “This set of the alleyway looks exactly like the real alleyway. Well, why don’t we just shoot in the real alleyway.”
Tommy responds, “Because it’s a real Hollywood movie.”
In making “The Disaster Artist”, Franco supports his fantastic creation on three pillars. First, he wonderfully captures the insanity of Tommy’s persona (and associated vision) and does so in a purely and deeply comedic fashion. Truly, “The Room” fans do laugh at the film, not with it, and here, the audience will also chuckle and hoot at Tommy’s judgment and unique presence. This film is a scream, and Franco’s sound sense of the material is spot on, as well as his pitch-perfect performance of Mr. Wiseau, both physically and verbally.
Secondly, in a recent interview with Variety, Franco mentions that his film is “a universal story about dreamers trying to make it in a really hard business.”
While the film does transparently present Tommy with all of his idiosyncrasies and faults, it also captures his entrepreneurial spirit and drive, especially as Tommy completes “The Room” in the movie’s final act. A level of respect exists, a level of accomplishment.
Additionally, fans will absolutely love and cherish every single moment of this picture – and watch it repeatedly - as it pays homage to Wiseau’s oddly-constructed film that is infinitely bigger today. “The Disaster Artist” is a celebration and a triumphant one, but will those who have never seen “The Room” find it remotely as entertaining? Good question, because to completely appreciate “The Disaster Artist”, “The Room” is a required prerequisite.
An important note: If at all possible, please avoid watching “The Disaster Artist” trailer, because one should experience Franco’s portrayal of Tommy Wiseau for the first time – and his utterance of “…I did not. Oh hi Mark.” - during the actual film, not a two-minute trailer. That line is just one of 99 moments of comedic, cinematic goodness crammed into this film’s 98-minute runtime.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.