Movies about making movies are always tricky. There’s the constant danger that the final result might come off as pretentious–yet another exercise in Hollywood holding a mirror to itself. While the initial 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 envisioned his opus as an Oscar-caliber film with drama on par with “Tennessee Williams.” And while that may have been Tommy’s intention, the film was received quite a bit differently. And for the better. Everything about The 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.
Having discovered The Room, like many of us, via clips on YouTube, I became instantly obsessed. One can only fully understand the unintended genius of Tommy by attending a screening, as watching The Room on DVD just doesn’t cut it. If you’re lucky enough to see The Room with Tommy in attendance, it becomes an event. Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist details his experiences making The Room and his journey to Planet Tommy and beyond (I highly recommend listening to the audiobook 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 Wiseau, along with the making of The Room. While it asks all the right questions about Tommy Wiseau, answers never come. How old is Tommy? Where did he get $6 million to make The Room? And what’s his real background? Tommy’s Wikipedia entry suggests that he is Polish and 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.
“Watching the twists and turns this magically-odd relationship takes is weirdly spellbinding.“
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. While the movie version of The Disaster Artist features an assembly of the greatest hits of stories from the book, Franco wisely focuses on the best part of the story–the tumultuous friendship between Wiseau and Sestero. Watching the twists and turns this magically-odd relationship takes is weirdly spellbinding. The film is a remarkable achievement considering director James Franco was able to balance playing the role of Tommy and directing the movie…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, as 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 surprisingly relatable. The idea of one risking it all and bearing their soul, and doing and spending whatever it takes to make it is where The Disaster Artist succeeds.
"…Franco and the entire Disaster Artist team have created a modern fable."