We see a middle-aged man’s creative dreams come true. What a story!
A buddy movie about the making of one of the great bad movies, The Disaster Artist is a must-see for fans of the 2003 cult phenomenon, The Room. But even those unfamiliar with or skeptical of Tommy Wiseau’s peculiar talent may find something touching in this story of a hopelessly incompetent artist with a strange and personal vision and the inexplicable bank accounts to bring it to life.
As the movie opens, we meet Greg (Dave Franco), unconvincingly working on a scene from Waiting for Godot for an acting class. Soon, Tommy (James Franco), a hulking would-be actor with long black hair, takes the student stage with a unique take on Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire. The elder Franco is shot from a distance as his cries of “Stella!” break the tense, uninspiring classroom environment, but even from that distance, the histrionically wrong delivery is clearly fueled by a conviction and personality that makes his thespian ineptitude endearing and hilarious. Greg is so impressed that he strikes up a friendship with his unusual classmate. Little does he know what he’s in for.
Based on the memoir by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist charts a friendship forged on a shared drive for creative expression, and an equally shared frustration at thwarted opportunities. Yet the duo never gives up, and finally Tommy, with a mysterious source of income that has never been explained, comes to Greg with a script for The Room, suggesting they make it themselves. Which they did, with a budget that reportedly topped six million dollars.
Throughout most of the Disaster Artist shoot, director-star James Franco reportedly stayed in character—and what a character! With sensitivity and respect, he fully embodies Wiseau and his signature unidentifiable accent. But more than a mere impersonation, Franco invests Wiseau with a naïve vulnerability that makes this potentially horrifying and definitely deluded would-be artist into a sympathetic human being desperate to share his art with the world.
The elder Franco captures Wiseau’s mannerisms so perfectly that nearly every line of his dialogue garners laughs. Yet the buddy part of the equation—little brother Dave Franco as Greg—isn’t as successful. While the director-star is transformed into a reasonable simulacrum of Wiseau, Dave Franco looks nothing like Sestero, and while the casting suggests a little-brother dynamic that could have borne dramatic fruit, the resonance never pays off.
Still, Dave Franco doesn’t get in the way of what makes the movie so watchable; James Franco is the fearless leader, and while the rest of the casting isn’t consistently successful, enough of it works to either replicate Wiseau’s film or convey the idea for newcomers. One of the most inspired bits of casting is Zac Efron as Dan Janjigian, aka drug dealer Chris R., a bit character in The Room who walks away with a brief scene in which he pulls a gun on the Mad Magazine-like teenager Denny. Unfortunately, as Chris R. dominates Denny, Efron dominates Josh Hutcherson, whose bland looks can’t convey what made Philip Haldiman so effective as Denny in the original 2003 film. Perhaps that dynamic is why such a major part of The Room is given somewhat short shrift in The Disaster Artist. Luckily, most of the rest of the cast pays off, especially Jacki Weaver, who makes Carolyn Minnott/Lisa‘s mom all her own.
While Room-heads who have a dream cast of the movie in mind will quibble over such things and beam in recognition at, say, the flower shop scene, what do viewers who haven’t seen the original movie have to hold onto? In the end, Wiseau’s almost childlike persistence in the face of all obstacles makes The Disaster Artist a profoundly moving story: we see a middle-aged man’s creative dreams come true. What a story!