Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor. Directed by James Franco.
There’s no denying that the 2003 film The Room is truly awful. Not the brilliant mother-son drama starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson from a year or two back, but the self-financed passion project for actor, writer, producer, director (possible vampire – we’ll see) Tommy Wiseau. Like Ed Wood before him, Wiseau set out to make a Tennessee Williams-style drama of passion and intrigue and instead made a comedy so farcical it’s as quotable as any Quentin Tarantino movie – but for all the wrong reasons.
Wiseau wrote a story about a man named Johnny, a banker who’s girlfriend Lisa begins an affair with his best friend Mark. While a whole host of other things go on, Johnny discovers the betrayal and seeks to out it. Wiseau cast his friend Greg Sestero in the role of Mark, and years later Sestero published a book which is half about how he met this David Guest looking weirdo and half about how they went about making The Room. That book was called The Disaster Artist, and this is the movie of that book of that movie.
For anyone who has seen the Cinema Sins or Screen Junkies comic lampooning of Wiseau’s original effort, this film will come as no great revelation, but from the memoir by Sestero does something different. Instead of looking at a poorly made, and fairly badly acted mess, what Franco and co have made is a film that is a perfect meditation on ego, on dreamers and on friendship. Much like Tim Burton’s loving ode to the work of crap-pusher Ed Wood, James Franco doesn’t mock Wiseau but rather looks at the story from the right point of view, of someone in love with an idea, and someone who was a little bit of an outsider.
There’s no denying that Tommy Wiseau is not only not talented but a complete bullshit artist as Seth Rogen’s tired script supervisor Sandy Schklair says in a moment of fury, but there’s also something deep beneath, a longing to belong. In this respect it feels more like a work of Paul Thomas Anderson. With the ensemble cast he normally compiles, and career best performances it has the central relationship from The Master, with the period mania of Inherent Vice, the unlikeable lead of Punch-Drunk Love and the setting of Boogie Nights. This is by far the best thing Franco has directed; his others have been overly worthy, dour takes on the works of America’s best literary examples. But for his best work he turns to the worst.
The choice to cast Dave Franco as Greg Sestero makes sense, he’s a handsome lad and has the right hair and beard for the part but moreover the relationship between Greg and Tommy becomes what both Francos already have – brotherhood. The bond between them is real, and heartfelt and helps the film soar when it needs to. That’s not to say that James Franco doesn’t nail the mad energy and vocal inflections of Tommy Wiseau, he does, and under some make-up to look like him, he transforms and gives his best performance since 127 Hours.
Moreover, Dave Franco shines as Greg able to be quiet and reserved, confused even at times but also able to be the one to call Wiseau on his outrageous behaviour. The infamous sex scene situation in which Wiseau made his co-star Juliette Danielle cry before insisting they film a love scene is cringing in the book, but here is so hard to watch you feel the anger of everyone.
Around the two is a host of bit players, some in several scenes, some in only one scene but who nail their scenes regardless. Seth Rogen is at his best as the super dry, burnt out script supervisor nabbing some great moments of John Cleese-style fed up pain, while the smaller roles of people in the film – Josh Hutcherson’s confused Philip Haldiman (Denny in The Room) nabs a few decent scenes while Jacki Weaver and Ari Graynor as Carolyn Minnott and Juliette Danielle (Claudette and Lisa in The Room) get some of the more hard to watch scenes.
Weaver nails the strangeness of The Room as Minnott asking the all important question – just what is the deal with the breast cancer revelation, while Graynor is perfect at playing embarrassed and annoyed as she tries her best to not let Wiseau’s antics get to her.
Paul Scheer, it has to be said is the most likeable of all the players as Raphael Smadja the director of photography who clashes with Wiseau on everything, but cannot stand by and allow him to embarrass poor Danielle a minute longer. While the raft of cameos come in floods – Alison Brie (Dave Franco’s wife) as Greg’s girlfriend, Megan Mullally as Greg’s mother, Hannibal Buress and Jason Mantzoukas as the owners of the studio stage Wiseau hires. Zac Efron gets great laughs as Dan Janjigian who plays thug Chris-R with his usual flair for deadpan humour while Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone and Bryan Cranston get one scene cameos as Jean Shelton, Iris Burton, and Bryan Cranston.
But really, the film is a triumph for how Franco manages to make such a clear failure into a triumph. Wiseau speaks of wanting a planet on which he can have nothing but love and goodness and happiness, but is confused when his searing drama doesn’t get cries but laughs. It takes his pal Greg to point out that people laughing and having a good time is the one thing he wanted the most.
It must also be said that the costume design by Brenda Abbandandolo is a triumph, managing to get the costumes exactly right for the film-within-a-film recreating the garish, awful look from The Room as well as capturing the look of the late 90s and early 00s.
When the end comes and the credits play scenes from the original film with the Franco cast doing their renditions, it’s hard not to wish there was a whole shot-for-shot remake of The Room by the cast, but the original is such a singular, one of a kind film that it could never be done again. Instead, The Disaster Artist asks us to laugh with the film not at it, and to come to see Tommy Wiseau as Greg does, as a friend, and a strange man out of time, out of place and out of step but absolutely singular in his quest. We might not like his work, and we might think him an arrogant, confusingly rich, weirdly accented, non-specifically aged dick at some points, but we have to admire his sheer force of nature. As a buddy comedy, a film about brotherhood and about love, it’s one of the best of the year. Oh Hi Mark.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.