The Disaster Artist

Or how to make the worst movie on Earth and come out on top, sort of.

To watch Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is to enter an alternate universe where the rules of human interaction, let alone narrative coherence, don’t apply. It messed with my sense of reality in frightening ways. The simple fact that it ended finding an audience, becoming a cult classic and spawning a movie with actual Hollywood stars is enough to make your head explode.

Making a movie about the genesis of The Room could be a daunting effort. Luckily, Tommy’s co-star, Greg Sesteros wrote a book about his experience, which inspired the deft screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. The Disaster Artist answers some important enigmas, such as how could The Room cost 6 million dollars. But whether by nature or design, the mystery of the Wiseau mystique remains safely out of the reach of mere mortals.

James Franco, in his best directorial effort to date, also stars as Tommy, and he is spectacular. He nails the unplaceable accent and the Transylvanian je ne sais quoi, but he also manages to make Tommy emotionally coherent, if that is possible. Tommy is exactly like the character he plays in his own movie: oversensitive, delusional, manipulative, borderline homosexual, narcissistic, devoid of boundaries and bereft of human consensus. Franco is not only hilarious, he mines a core of neediness and dogged innocence that makes you feel bad for Tommy, even at his worst. Tommy may not ever admit it, but he is vulnerable. For all his bravado, he tends to cave under pressure, as when he’s supposed to shoot his first scene in that stupid, stupid roof. Actually, the movie should have been called “The Roof”, as most of the drama happens there, for reasons that no one will ever be able to explain. The Disaster Artist certainly doesn’t have most answers. But it explores what it is to have a dream about making a movie and what it takes to actually get it made. It makes fun of Tommy Wiseau, but it feels him. The Disaster Artist has a lot of heart.

The title of the movie is spot on. It takes unprecedented incompetence to succeed in making something so atrocious. The only explanation for a $6 million dollar disaster like The Room is that Wiseau is a perfect storm of utter cluelessness, delusional belief in himself, and oodles of cash. But the movie is also about the real struggle of actors trying to make it. It’s about how hard it is to break into show business, and how professionals save the day when amateurs go on a rampage, if only to cash their checks. Wiseau is the only person in the world that believes 200% in that tired cliché of following your passion and/or dream (a cliché that gets tossed around liberally, and quite cynically, at the cottage industry of casting seminars, screenwriting conferences and all those scams that prey on desperate wannabes, like poor Greg Sesteros and every poor, pitiful actor that appears in the original film).

As for Tommy, he goes straight to the United Talent Agency, uninvited. He accosts a producer (a very funny Judd Apatow) in the middle of dinner at a fancy Hollywood restaurant. He buys equipment. He buys a theater run for two weeks so his movie can qualify for AN OSCAR NOMINATION. The auteur of what is possibly the worst movie ever made, ends up being a shining example for anyone who ever wanted to see their name in lights.

I was moved by the scene where he arrives the first day of shooting and everyone is there waiting for him to lead. That is the magic of moviemaking — a group of people (who hopefully know what they’re doing) get together to make someone’s vision happen. Then it is with utter glee, horror and pity that we are treated to what happened on that set. Part of the kick is to watch seasoned pros like Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor and Jackie Weaver play the roles of the hapless actors, and in the case of Rogen, the script supervisor holding the precarious thing by a thread. Graynor and Weaver are too good for the roles of Lisa and her mother. The original actresses were so bad that it may be impossible for a decent actor to replicate them.

Then there is the meta factor — actual celebrities extoll the virtues of the film, stars have fleeting cameos, and the writers juggle expertly the Chinese boxes of irony involved in the eventual success of this terrible failure. And they don’t shy away from darkness. The crushed hopes of poor Greg (a good Dave Franco) who is manipulated by his jealous, narcissist friend, are painful to behold. Like any two-bit tyrant, Wiseau can be both generous and extraordinarily petty. He reminds me of another character who seems to be living in his own reality and who happens to be our current president. They are both grotesque beings who live in a fog of self-adoration. Right now, the entire United States feels like the set of The Room. Happily, The Disaster Artist does not take a turn for the cynical: it actually celebrates Wiseau’s extraordinary achievement.

Make sure you stay all the way to the end of the final credits.