Movies about making movies are always tricky. There’s always a danger that the final result might come off as pretentious–yet another exercise in Hollywood holding up a mirror to itself. And while the initial original aspirations of over-actor, writer, director, filmmaker, showman and underwear magnate Tommy Wiseau for his debut film The Room may have been pretentious and self-indulgent, the actual result is unintentionally hysterical. Tommy envisionedThe Room as an Oscar-caliber film with drama on par with the work of “Tennessee Williams.” And while that may have been Tommy’s intention, the film was received quite a bit differently. And for the better. Now everything aboutThe Room, the making of it, the cast of odd characters, and especially Tommy Wiseau himself are now the stuff of legend among fans of the “so bad it’s good” genre.
“Watching this magically-odd relationship take twists and turns is nothing less than magical…”
Having discoveredThe Room like many of us did, via clips on YouTube, I became instantly obsessed. And one can only fully understand the unintended genius of Tommy by attending a screening. WatchingThe Room on DVD just doesn’t quite cut it. And if you’re lucky enough to seeThe Room with Tommy in attendance, it becomes event. Greg’s Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist details his own experiences with makingThe Room and his journey to Planet Tommy and beyond. (And I do highly recommend listening to the audiobook of The Disaster Artist as Greg‘s imitation of Tommy‘s voice is dead on.) The book offers a fascinatingly detailed account of the strange friendship between author Sestero and Tommy Wiseau along with the making ofThe Room. And while it asks all the right questions about Tommy Wiseau, the answers are never revealed. How old is Tommy? Where did he get $6 million to makeThe Room? And what’s his real background? Tommy’s Wikipedia entry actually suggests that he is Polish and that he was likely born in the 1950s, but there are conflicting reports. The details of Tommy Wiseau’s real life remain a mystery and we may never learn his true story.
When James Franco was halfway through reading The Disaster Artist, he called his manager to get the rights to make the book into a movie. And while the movie version of The Disaster Artist features an assembly of the greatest hits of stories from the book, the film focuses on the best part of the story–the tumultuous friendship between Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero. Watching this magically-odd relationship take twists and turns is nothing less than magical. The film is a remarkable achievement considering director James Franco was able to balance playing the role of Tommy and directing the film… in character!
“…a remarkable achievement considering director James Franco was able to balance playing the role of Tommy and directing the film… in character!”
Some might argue that it’s difficult to relate to people who work in the film industry. But as an outsider, Tommy is the perfect vessel to experience the journey of “going for the Hollywood dream.” It’s not a typical “fish-out-of-water” story, Tommy is like an alien from another planet trying to imitate a human. It’s this story thread that makes The Disaster Artist so powerful and so surprisingly relatable. The idea of one risking it all. Bearing one’s soul. Spending whatever it takes. Doing whatever it takes to make it. This is where The Disaster Artist succeeds.
When you look at the face of the real Tommy Wiseau, there is real pain there. That face has been through something dark and mysterious. It’s a miracle that Tommy survived his past to became this fearless optimist. Tommy ignored everyone who told him that “going for the Hollywood dream” was foolish. James Franco in make-up as Tommy that balances that darkness with humor. (This time, intentionally.) Franco channels Tommy’s mannerisms and speech patterns resulting in a performance that is oddly hypnotic. The Academy would be negligent if they forgot to nominate Franco come Oscar time. Additionally, the make-up team must be nominated as Franco’s performance is made complete by that face.
There are so many other notable performances including Paul Scheer, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and you can see the delight with which all of them rise to the occasion in faithfully re-creating what it must’ve been like to be on the insane set ofThe Room. In particular, Dave Franco acting with his brother is especially touching.
“James Franco and the entire Disaster Artist team have created a modern fable…”
I’m not ashamed to admit that in The Disaster Artist’s final moments when transitioning to real video footage of Tommy and Greg actually made me well up with tears. James Franco tore me apart. The Disaster Artist is a strange validation of Tommy‘s talent. Take your conventional ranking systems of what makes something “quality” and throw them out the fucking window. Anyone who has seen John Waters’ brilliantly original Pink Flamingoes understands that our definitions of “beauty,” “quality” and “success” are all bullshit. It’s bullshit. As the ultimate underdog, Tommy defined his own success and this is what makes him a hero both as a character in the film and in real life.
James Franco and the entire Disaster Artist team have created a modern fable. Someone who went for their dream achieved it in the most unlikely way possible. We can all relate.
The Disaster Artist (2017) Directed by James Franco. Writers Scott Neustadter (screenplay by), Michael H. Weber (screenplay by). Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Ari Graynor, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Ephron, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrew Santino.
9 out of 10