The Room’s reputation as the worst movie ever made (or one of them) is well-earned. Some shots are blocked bafflingly poorly, the film is disastrously edited, and the acting and writing are utterly atrocious. Still, there’s a feeling that, behind everything in the film, there was at least some level of passion dedicated to the project and it wasn’t made to be bad; it was simply misguided, made without an understanding of the medium or what makes a movie work or not. It was the vision of one man who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film: Tommy Wiseau. It co-starred his best friend, Greg Sestero, as one of the male leads. Its legacy and the events that led to it prompted Sestero to pen a book that detailed his experiences in working on it called The Disaster Artist, on which James Franco’s incredible film of the same name is based.
James Franco stars as Tommy Wiseau and his brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestero in the adaptation of Sestero’s novel and it is, in a word, sensational. In spite of its shortcomings, it plays at the same time as a love letter to The Room and as an inspiration to anyone who would dare to dream about becoming a star. Wiseau is such a character in his own right that it is easy to laugh at him, but the film never approaches mocking him, even though it definitely plays up his zanier antics for some comedic value (to great effect). Franco’s performance in this role is everything that a biographical performance in a movie like this should strive to be; he steps into Wiseau’s shoes and lives and breathes as that character and never for a moment fails to convince that he is Tommy Wiseau, and given the character that Wiseau himself is this was no small feat. It is clear in his performance just how much affection Franco has for both Wiseau and the material itself, and even at his most self-destructive he still plays the man with a stunning amount of conviction and as an inspirational figure, a failed artist who failed so badly he inadvertently realized his dreams.
This is truly the film’s greatest success; it would achieve this regardless of whether it was about The Room or about any movie, at all. It works as hard as it can to inspire and dares any and everyone to dream, because success or failure are simply a path on that road and no matter what, it is most important to dream, to strive, to struggle, and to try to achieve something. At one point, Greg says to Tommy, “You did this,” and that really, in the end, is exactly what matters and why The Disaster Artist matters. So many people who could and should offer so much to the world are told no and they listen, and they believe it, and they quit on their dreams and resolve themselves to something less than they are. The Disaster Artist says no; don’t quit, don’t forfeit, don’t give up on your dreams and push yourself to be something better and to make something better. One should walk out of The Disaster Artist inspired to run out and try to conquer the world, just like Tommy Wiseau does in the film, no matter what anyone does or says to try to stop him.
That said, for as beautifully as it is crafted, it isn’t perfect. Dave Franco is a pretty big misstep as Sestero, not being nearly as tall, lanky, or quite as attractive as his real-life counterpart. Perhaps they felt like they could build off the natural relationship between James and his younger brother to cultivate Tommy and Greg’s on-screen friendship, and the two definitely work well together as an on-screen pair, but for his part Franco’s Sestero feels a little too wide-eyed and naive to be a believable character. Whether the real-life Sestero was quite this wide-eyed and naive this reviewer can’t answer, but as a character in this film it seems strangely distracting. One area where The Disaster Artist veers away from the book from which it was adapted is in Sestero himself, showing him as far less successful than his book counterpart to better mirror the journey that Tommy is going on and make The Room something born of their mutual frustrations.
The film also deviates from real life in a number of other areas, streamlining some of the production nightmare that was the behind-the-scenes turmoil of The Room a little to condense it into The Disaster Artist (a documentary about the making of the movie could and would easily be twice as long as it is). Gone are the issues Wiseau had with numerous actors cast in roles; Juliette Danielle, for example, was reportedly the fourth actress to play Lisa before Wiseau was finally happy with her. It gets Sestero involved more quickly than he was in real life as well. It also condenses the finale of the film as a final testament to its cultural endurance, as people did laugh at the premiere, but it did not become the cult sensation it was destined to become that night as the film depicts. This actually works pretty well for The Disaster Artist, however, without adding an additional subplot that would have dragged out the runtime unnecessarily.
Dave Franco aside, the rest of the cast in the film is picture-perfect, fully embodying their The Room counterparts to hilarious effect, especially Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman and Zac Efron as Dan Janjigian. They’re all very effective, even if somewhat “blink and you’ll miss them” and this includes larger supporting roles like Seth Rogen or Hannibal Burress. The film is jammed full of celebrity cameos from Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, and many more that also come and go very quickly. This works in this film, however, because the centerpiece of the film is Wiseau and The Room itself, which looms like a character in the scenes in which they are not developing it and acts like one in the scenes in which they are.
Especially for fans of the cult hit, the re-enacted scenes are just marvelous. It is somewhat ironic that a film made with so little understanding of the film-making process should be immortalized in one that is made with such care and attention to detail. Even the line delivery among the cast in the re-creations is done to (mostly) the same cadence and timing as the original, and really, to re-create The Room any other way would’ve been a disservice to it because one has to understand exactly what it was in order to understand why a film with this much devotion to it came to be. The Room is beloved for its badness, celebrated for its cringe, and worshiped for its woeful ineptitude… but can anything be quite so bad to have brought so much good into the world? It is a testament to “so-bad-it’s-good” cinema’s ability to entertain against all odds, and what is most amazing about The Disaster Artist is exactly how much Franco is able to encapsulate all of those good feelings and all of that amazing entertainment and turn it into a wonderfully endearing piece of cinema. It is one of the best films of the year and exactly one of the reasons that everyone should go to the movies. Ten out of Ten Stars.