‘Disaster Artist’ an outstanding movie about the making of a celebrated bad one
Michael Wahle Dec. 15, 2017
As recently as late November, it appeared to everyone and his mother that the hilarious and heartfelt Kumail Nanjiani vehicle “The Big Sick” would run away with the unofficial title of 2017’s best comedy. But now, on the heels of the early December release of “The Disaster Artist,” the debate about the year’s best comedy is once again open.
“The Disaster Artist” sees James Franco both in the director’s chair (undoubtedly his finest turn at the helm to date) and in the starring role as quirky real-life actor/director Tommy Wiseau.
In 2003, Wiseau wrote/directed/starred in/bankrolled a drama entitled “The Room,” a film so remarkably ill-conceived and so misguided in every aspect of its execution, that it unintentionally attracted a cult-comedy following; to this day, it plays to sold-out midnight screenings around the nation.
While attending an acting class in the Bay Area, Wiseau, who has the appearance of a cross between Dracula and Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong with an unidentifiable foreign accent, meets Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, James’ little brother), an aspiring actor with big dreams but little confidence in himself.
Sestero so admires his newfound friend’s spontaneity and brazen belief in his own abilities that he overlooks Wiseau’s glaring eccentricities and crashes with him at Wiseau’s Los Angeles apartment.
Initially, both Wiseau and Sestero struggle to find any work in the entertainment industry, which plants an idea in the irrationally confident Wiseau’s mind: What if he writes a film of his own, and casts himself and his good buddy Sestero in the lead roles?
A few taps of the typewriter and $6 million of his own money later, Wiseau assembles a full cast and crew for “The Room,” a film that its mere existence poses an endless list of befuddling questions: Where is Tommy Wiseau from (he claims New Orleans, which seems highly unlikely) and how old is he, exactly? How did he amass his bottomless pit of personal wealth? And most importantly, how could he possibly think it was a good idea to spend $6 million of it on such a relentlessly brutal script?
In order for “The Disaster Artist” to succeed, it was essential to find a pitch-perfect balance between poking fun at “The Room’s” obvious flaws (and Wiseau’s equally apparent peculiarities) and steering the proceedings away from becoming mean-spirited, i.e., losing sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, Wiseau is a real human being who truly did his best.
And Franco, who himself possesses a checkered (and one might even say bizarre) list of credits with more than a few failures, toes that fine line perfectly. In the same spirit that Wiseau has embraced “The Room’s” unexpected cult comedy status, Franco’s razor-sharp precision ensures that “The Disaster Artist” laughs with Wiseau without ever laughing at him.
And the writing here, largely influenced by the book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room,’ the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made” by Tom Bissell, is just as precise and delicate as Franco’s direction, not to mention incredibly witty.
Penned by the prolific screenwriting duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the same team behind terrific films like “500 Days of Summer,” “The Spectacular Now” and “The Fault in Our Stars”), the script for “The Disaster Artist” is everything that the script for “The Room” was not: brilliant and intentionally laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Suffice it to say that it’s not too daunting of a task to cultivate laughs from a production as wildly inept as that of “The Room.” But what really sets the script for “The Disaster Artist” apart is that, in addition to being hysterically funny, it’s also rather poignant, as Neustadter and Weber take a step beyond the stranger-than-fiction production and deftly explore the people involved.
We learn some truly fascinating details not only about the erratic Wiseau (whose portrayal benefits immensely from the elder Franco’s tour de force performance), but also the members of the cast and crew, some of whom were willing to grin and bear the utter chaos so long as the check cleared and so long as they could pursue their show-business dreams on the set of a real movie, even one as brutal as “The Room.”
It also, of course, helps quite a bit that Franco has assembled a stellar “Who’s Who” ensemble of contemporary American comedy stars as part of his supporting cast. Joining the Franco Bros. for the proceedings are friend and frequent collaborator Seth Rogen, Dave Franco’s real-life wife Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Nathan Fielder and a list I don’t have the space to continue here. But whereas most star vehicles today feel overcrowded and desperate, the presence of the several big names in “The Disaster Artist” never feels forced; everyone blends in seamlessly and appears to be having a blast.
No, “The Disaster Artist” never manages to solve the unsolvable mystery that continues to shroud Tommy Wiseau and his doomed script. But watching it all unfold might go down as the most fun you will have had at the movies this year.