By Thomas Infante
In 2003, a man named Tommy Wiseau directed, wrote, produced and starred in the film, “The Room.” It was a huge financial loss, but the film eventually gained a strong cult following due to its over-dramatic acting and nonsensical plot and dialogue. It’s a film that almost demands a behind-the-scenes account, and thanks to James Franco and his younger brother Dave, we have one.
“The Disaster Artist” was released in December 2017 and is directed and produced by James Franco, who also plays Wiseau. Dave plays Wiseau’s best friend Greg Sestero, who co-starred alongside Wiseau in “The Room” and also wrote the book that this movie is based on. Despite its bizarre premise, the film has garnered multiple award nominations, including a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy win by the elder Franco.
As a fan of “The Room,” I expected “The Disaster Artist” to be a pretty straightforward comedy movie, but this was not the case. Franco’s performance of Tommy is surprisingly believable, but this is in part due to how enigmatic Wiseau is in real life. For those unfamiliar with the man, Tommy Wiseau is a ghostly, middle-aged man with long, straight jet-black hair who speaks with a confusing accent that he refuses to divulge the origin of. While Franco simply isn’t as vampiric as Wiseau, he nails the accent and speech cadence, and really immerses himself in the role instead of just impersonating him.
The film details the beginning of the friendship between Tommy and Greg, who meet in an acting class in San Francisco. Greg compliments Tommy on his fearlessness, and the two soon become friends, sharing a dream of someday becoming movie stars. The two eventually move to Los Angeles to further pursue their acting careers, and after multiple auditions and rejections, they decide to make and star in their own movie instead. Tommy writes the only copy of the script by typewriter, and “The Room” is born.
Greg tries to support Tommy throughout their journey, but their relationship is strained by Tommy’s mysterious background. Tommy maintains that he is from New Orleans (despite his vague European accent), and when Greg asks how old he is, he says that he is “the same age as you,” despite being at least 15 years his senior. People constantly tell Greg how strange Tommy is, and it gets increasingly harder for him to defend his friend.
Tommy’s associates are also confounded about his financial standing. In addition to spending upward of $5 million out-of-pocket on the film, he also has apartments in both San Francisco and L.A., and never specifies how he came into all that money.
The only thing that confuses people more than Tommy’s personality is the movie itself. As production continues, the crew have more difficulties working with Tommy, who shows up late every day to shooting and often forgets his lines and breaks character to talk to the camera during takes. The actors wonder why the movie plot makes no sense, and Tommy begins to unravel under the pressure.
While the conflict between characters gives them more depth, it also produces the weakest moments in the film. Franco has difficulty making Tommy relatable or empathetic as a character, despite the scenes and dialogue that clearly show that Tommy is lonely, depressed and jealous of Greg. There is a scene where the actors discuss whether or not Tommy’s movie is autobiographical, but there is no insight into whether or not that could be the case. Aside from a few minor details, he is no less confusing and outlandish to the viewer by the film’s conclusion.
Luckily, serious moments are few and far between in “The Disaster Artist,” which focuses mostly on the absurd comedy that results from everything Tommy does and says. On the set of his film, he often foils their sarcastic script supervisor Sandy (Seth Rogen), who clearly thinks that there is something wrong with Tommy. The supporting cast includes some hilarious actors in very small roles, including Alison Brie as Greg’s girlfriend Amber and Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron and Nathan Fielder as actors in Tommy’s movie. While the abundance of recognizable faces slightly disrupts the suspension of disbelief, it also leads to some hilarious moments where the actors recreate famous scenes from “The Room.”
The film raises more questions about Wiseau than it answers. With “The Room” already being such a funny movie in its own right (albeit unintentionally) I hoped that “The Disaster Artist” would explore Wiseau’s motivations, but it fails to reveal anything significant about Wiseau or the inspiration behind his cult classic. It’s one of the funniest movies Franco has been a part of in years, but does not capture the true “human emotion” that Tommy talks about so much while making his movie.
If nothing else, this film does an excellent job immortalizing the story behind “The Room,” and will likely increase awareness of it for years to come. “The Disaster Artist” is a hilarious, ridiculous and inspiring tale of the American dream told by someone you can barely understand.