The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of a film, exudes a sense of near-obsession with its subject. That subject is The Room, the 2003 indie film that is considered either the most brilliant art-film ever or the worst insult to filmmaking of all time. If Ed Wood and his legendarily bad films like Plan 9 From Outer Space set a bar for spectacularly bad, The Room and its writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau sailed over that bar with meters to spare.
Now we're 14 years later, and James Franco has thrown himself into The Disaster Artist, just like Tommy (and even playing the role of Tommy), as producer, director, and star. The script is based on the memoir of the same name written by Tommy's best friend and The Room co-star Greg Sestero. It follows Greg and Tommy's relationship and progression from their first meeting during acting workshops in San Francisco in the late 1990s to their moving to Los Angeles to follow their respective dreams of making it big as actors. When they fail to find any particular success in acting, they decide to make their own film. And the result was The Room.
Sure, making your own indie film isn't unique in and of itself; however, with Tommy, it's like entering into a parallel dimension. If an alien being were to arrive on earth and put on a human skin, the end result may be not entirely unlike the entity that is Tommy Wiseau. He comes across as being mentally touched in some undefinable way. There is a mention of a car accident at some point in his past in which he should have died. My own reading is if that part of his story is true, then it may have resulted in some of the behaviors that come through.
Franco and his real-life brother Dave Franco's performances are unnervingly spot-on to Wiseau and Sestero — so much so that when watching the side-by-side segments of The Disaster Artist and The Room played during the film's end credits, several scenes could be swapped out without really being all that evident.
The strength of the film goes hands down to James Franco's commitment to the project. Putting on a performance of a lifetime, he captures an individual who can barely relate to the world around him. He's at once an adult who behaves with the response drive of a young teen and the intellectual grasp of someone not very much older. He wants so passionately to create movie magic, but at the same time has no real idea of how to go about connecting with others enough to learn.
The Room, for me, has always been a weird project by a very bizarre eccentric. However, watching The Disaster Artist, I now need to go back again and watch the original with what will certainly be fresh eyes. Tommy himself is a mystery — no one knows where the nearly six million dollars that was spent on The Room came from; Tommy just seems to have unlimited amounts of it. The character he plays in The Room indicates he's in his 20s, while Tommy himself is obviously at least nearing the end of his 30s if not his 40s. (Editor's Note: in a 2010 interview, Wiseau claimed he was 41 — but an excerpt from Sestero's book says Wiseau's US immigration papers show a "much earlier" birth year.) He claims to be from New Orleans, while nothing about his language, accent, or habits point to anything of the kind.
In many cases, someone with a similarly narrow perception of the world might come off as rather sad. Tommy seems, however, to project an alternate-reality bubble. His passion and energy combine to make people, if only for a moment, see the world in the same way that he does.
There's a huge number of stars in this film, from J.J. Abrams to Seth Rogan to Sharon Stone and Melanie Griffeth. There are more than two dozen major celebrities who either play roles in the film or play themselves. Each of them are having more fun and putting more into this than I've seen in years. When you have an ensemble coming together with this much passion in what they're doing, the result is captivating — even if you're not always sure exactly why.
Now I really want to see a midnight showing of The Room.