Who could’ve ever imagined that this would ever be a thing? A studio comedy that covers the making of one of the most infamous cult films in recent memory, The Room. How can you possibly capture the distinctive weirdness behind writer/director/producer/star, Tommy Wiseau, without resorting to caricature or even underplay just how much of a mysterious oddball he is? How do you present the stories and anecdotes from the bestselling book, The Disaster Artist (written by The Room co-star, Greg Sestero, and Tom Bissell) without having to somehow bending over backwards to convince an audience who might be unaware of The Room that, in fact, yes, all of this actually happened? Plus, how tacky will it be if the movie just ends up being a bunch of celebrities essentially making fun of people who had the bad luck of being hired in a bizarre production? It’s shocking to me on so many levels that this even exists, but do you know what’s even more shocking?
That they actually pulled it off. And not only do they pull it off, but it’s good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Tim Burton’s classic, Ed Wood, which is another film that revolved around a legendarily bad, but nonetheless resilient filmmaker, and one of my all-time personal favorites.
So much of the film rests on James Franco to be able to really transform into Wiseau, capture all his weird ticks, bizarre mannerisms, that befuddling accent, and social awkwardness, and he basically nails it. Franco has always been one of the more unpredictable performers in Hollywood, who is able to go from showstopping dramas like 127 Hours to gonzo, idiosyncratic indie work like Spring Breakers, and it almost makes him a perfect fit to play someone as unique as Wiseau. The rest of the cast including Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, and a ton of others, mostly comedians, are all clearly having a great time, and are very much in tune to what the film is going for. They also provide many of the funniest moments. By having a cast full of naturally funny people, it allows their comedic personas to bounce off of Wiseau, leading to a number of hilarious reactions.
While Franco and his writers, Michael H. Webber and Scott Neustadter, could’ve easily played it all for laughs when adapting the book, they instead take a more thoughtful, and empathetic approach. If anything, it basically makes you think twice and feel bad for ever laughing *at* Wiseau in the first place. It makes a case for celebrating the spirit of someone like Wiseau, who despite his faults, is so resilient in his pursuit to follow his dreams, no matter how impossible they might seem, and how impossible he sometimes make it for himself. It acknowledges Wiseau is an individual who is arrogant, insensitive, often has no idea what he’s doing, and seems to keep a lot secrets (i.e. insisting he’s from New Orleans, never revealing his age, doesn’t explain where his wealth comes from, etc.), but the focus is instead placed on his relationship with his best friend Greg, who is played by James’ little brother Dave, and this is the beating heart of the entire film. Male bonds have always been a common theme among films by the James Franco/Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg group, and it’s no different here. There’s a sincerity and authenticity in how the film explores their relationship, and there’s a clearly real investment and love by the filmmakers, which gives the audience something to grasp onto.
If you haven’t seen The Room, you don’t have to watch it going into The Disaster Artist. Everything is spelled out fairly clearly, and the film even provides an amazing side-by-side comparison just before the credits roll, just so you can see how much attention was paid to every little detail in the making of this film. It fills you in on everything you need to know, and it’s just like how you don’t need to have seen Plan 9 From Outer Space in order to watch Ed Wood. And if you are someone who has seen and enjoyed The Room, the film is an absolute treasure trove. You can tell the filmmakers are all fans of The Room, and whenever they do lean on the moments you remember, it is pure joy. The film itself also does a good job in recontextualizing and enriching everything you thought you knew about The Room, and while it may not be as in depth as the book, it absolutely makes for a perfect companion piece to that original film.
As someone who loves The Room and the The Disaster Artist book, I was so nervous to see how the film would turn out, but it ended up being everything I could’ve hoped for and more. It’s a hilarious, but earnest love letter to outsider artists, and their ability to open themselves up to the world. It strikes a perfect balance in having fun with the material while also not being afraid to dive into melancholy and the inner humanity of the characters, underneath all their quirks. The finale was a shockingly cathartic moment where I found myself laughing and crying and feeling hopeful and inspired, all at the same time. The Disaster Artist being made is miraculous on its own, but the fact that it works as well as it does is nothing short of divine.
And stay during the credits. There’s something really fun at the very end.