First Look Review - The Disaster Artist
One of the overriding questions one has while enduring a particularly awful film is, with all of the talented out-of-work film-makers in Hollywood, just how on earth did this get made? Did no one take the time to really read the script? Couldn’t someone spot the signs during production? Didn’t anyone try to burn all available copies of the film before it limped onto the screen? There’s a certain sadistic pleasure in not only watching a “so bad it’s good” movie (a hobby that’s grown in popularity in recent years) but also to explore the tortured story behind the scene.
It’s especially fascinating when the finished product emerges in total earnest, seemingly produced by a team of people blissfully unaware of the horrors they have inflicted on an audience. Not many films conjure up this playful curiosity quite as much as 2003 oddity The Room. It’s a small-budget drama that developed a cult status for its stilted acting, nonsensical plotting and indefinable central figure Tommy Wiseau. It was released in just one theater in LA, with a twoweek extension paid for by Wiseau himself to ensure that it qualified for Oscar consideration. The compellingly strange details of its production were turned into a book, The Disaster Artist, which has now made its way to its inevitable resting place: the big screen.
Greg (Dave Franco) is a 19-year-old struggling actor living in San Francisco. He struggles not just because of the impossibly competitive nature of the industry, but also because, well, he’s not that good. In acting class, he’s finding it hard to lose himself in a scene, a problem that is quite notably not shared by boisterous classmate Tommy (James Franco). The pair begin to bond, Greg envious of Tommy’s apparent confidence and Tommy jealous of Greg’s “baby face” looks. Tommy is a frustrating enigma: his age, place of birth and source of income remain a mystery, but his enthusiasm compels Greg to stick with him.
After the pair move to Los Angeles, they both try plotting their individual routes into the industry, but Tommy’s eccentricities and Greg’s stiffness mean that their careers fail to take off. After yet another rejection, they hatch a plan: why not make their own movie? Tommy heads to his typewriter and before long, The Room is ready for production, with Tommy playing the lead and Greg nabbing a major part. But as the cameras start to roll, Greg discovers that he’s underestimated Tommy’s quirks and overestimated his talents.
While it’s not entirely essential to have seen The Room before The Disaster Artist, it does elevate the experience, the script answering longstanding questions hardcore fans have had for years. Franco, who, like Wiseau, also acts as director here, has crafted a loving tribute to the film, its fans and also film-making in general. There’s a tendency to cast aside unfathomably bad movies, the belief that their lack of quality then dictates a lack of respect, but Franco has assembled a painstaking recreation and a detailed exploration into a story that might never have been told.
In the past few years, Franco’s career has turned into something of a joke: his tiresome need to provoke and his unfounded belief that he is a master of all trades means it’s all too easy to forget his talent as an actor. But he is staggeringly good here, almost unrecognizable as Wiseau, nailing his strange mannerisms, unusual voice and awkward laugh while also delving deeper to inhabit a man whose deep-rooted insecurities are messily papered over with bravado. It’s easy to laugh at Wiseau, and the film unavoidably does, but it’s harder to make us actually care about him. It’s an affectionately handled portrait of a difficult man, and we share the frustration and sympathy of other characters. As director, he does solid work, but peppers his film with some bizarrely picked pop culture references. Despite the film being set in the late 90s/early 00s, the music is all from the early 90s and, clumsily, a number of posters in the background of scenes are of films released years after.
As the film starts to cover the meat of the story, the production of The Room itself, it becomes giddy, often hysterically funny entertainment. We follow Greg’s increasing horror as he realizes just what he’s got himself into and there’s a sustained series of ludicrous, crowd-pleasing set-pieces in rapid succession. Franco has also recruited a strong cast of actors for the many small roles in the film, including Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Megan Mullally, Hannibal Buress, Judd Apatow, Bryan Cranston, Zac Efron and Ari Graynor.
But the dazzle of the cast and the targeted in-jokes never take away from the film’s core messaging about the importance of believing in one’s own ability as an artist. Rather like last year’s Florence Foster Jenkins, the finale shows that even a really, unarguably bad performance can bring unabashed joy to a crowd, and with awards buzz already circulating around The Disaster Artist, Wiseau might be heading to the Oscars after all. The Disaster Artist is screening at the Toronto film festival and will be released in US cinemas on 1 December with a UK date yet to be announced
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