In the realm of cinematic enigmas, there are few modern stories stranger than the tale of Tommy Wiseau and The Room. The former is unquestionably one of the most untalented actor/filmmakers to ever grace this planet; and the latter, his most famous work, is so incredibly bizarre and terrible that you question whether it was actually made by a sane human mind. A dictionary definition of "so bad it's good," the 2003 film is a unique experience that leaves you helplessly wondering about all of the terrible decisions that were made leading to its creation.
Thankfully, we now have James Franco's The Disaster Artist to tell that particular story -- and it is successfully as weird and funny as you would hope. Showcasing fantastic turns from both Franco and his brother, Dave; a mile-long list of funny and surprising cameos; and what is legitimately a heart-felt story about passion and expression, it's the fantastic result of a brilliant stranger-than-fiction tale falling in the hands of the perfect cast and crew, and comes together as one of the best movies of the year.
Scripted by the talented duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist starts by taking audiences back to San Francisco in the year 1998. It is there that we are introduced to Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), a young aspiring actor who lacks the confidence required to give him any kind of presence. It's because of this, however, that Greg finds himself somewhat in awe of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), an oddball, pale-eyed, strange-looking member of his acting class who leans towards what can be subtly described as "explosive drama." Drawn in by Tommy's self-assurance and blinded to the fact that he's absolutely talentless, Greg seeks him out for guidance, and a friendship is quickly formed.
Greg quickly finds out that the more you know about Tommy, the less you know about him. While clearly an older guy, he claims to be as young as 19. While he speaks with an often-unintelligible accent, he claims to have been born and raised in New Orleans. And while he comes across as a complete moron, he possesses an immense fortune that basically lets him do whatever he wants. Naturally, never really questioning any of this is what allows Greg to form a close bond with Tommy, and after a few months working together they decide to make a run at their Hollywood dreams and move down to Los Angeles.
Like millions before them, Greg and Tommy find the film industry to be a haven of rejection, and their dreams of achieving stardom flicker with every failed audition. It's because of this disappointment, however, that they are sparked to a "brilliant" idea: if they can't get hired to star in other peoples' movies, they can just make a movie themselves. Tommy is inspired to write and direct The Room -- his vision of a romantic drama with himself in the lead role, and soon the wheels are in motion, with the production picking up a full cast and crew. But, of course, this is an endeavor spearheaded by an "idiotcrazyman," and a never-ending series of terrible decisions quickly cause things to unravel.
The Disaster Artist marks the first time that the Franco brothers have collaborated, and while they respectively have very different material to work with, they're really both magnificent. As you would expect, Tommy's unique personality makes James Franco the principal eye-catcher, but it goes much further than that. Playing the cult movie icon requires an authentic, transformative performance really unlike anything we've previously seen from the actor/director, and he successfully adds an important humanity to a guy who comes across as an extraterrestrial's interpretation of a person. He certainly maintains an air of mystery in his characterization (you shouldn't expect to fully understand The Room by the time the credits roll), but you also understand him through his motivations, priorities and relationships -- screwed up as they all may be.
Not only as Tommy but also as the director of the film, James Franco will certainly draw the lot of the acclaim for The Disaster Artist, but what Dave Franco delivers deserves due recognition as well. Greg Sestero could easily come across as a fool for not understanding Tommy Wiseau's lack of talent, or possibly even sinister given the resources provided to him by the friendship, but the younger Franco halts that with an impressive earnestness and sense of innocent ambition. While the world at large clearly doesn't understand Tommy, he sells that he really does, and it adds a certain magic to the narrative.
Clearly the fact that that Francos are siblings adds a special layer to The Disaster Artist, but the movie is also wonderfully enhanced by the director's status in film community, given the impressive star power that the indie movie possesses. Seth Rogen, who has been working with James Franco since the 1999 TV series Freaks and Geeks, and Paul Scheer are standouts, playing key members of the Room crew who find themselves in constant befuddlement regarding what's going through Tommy's mind, but they are just two of the many, many recognizable faces brought together to recreate this story -- all of whom find a memorable moment to play within the story. It not only supports the film from a comedic perspective, as many of the actors rank among the industry's funniest performers and have opportunity to demonstrate their gifts, but even somewhat completes the full ambition of The Room -- which was always imagined as a "big Hollywood movie," and now has the star power it always wanted.
The Disaster Artist is a love letter to The Room, a feature that has delivered a lot of unintentional joy to the cinematic world in the last 14 years, and those familiar with the cult title will have an enhanced appreciation for it. But it's not solely a film for that audience. Even if you've never heard of The Room, what James Franco has to offer here a fantastic, hilarious true Hollywood story that is as phenomenal as its subject matter is awful.