First things first: You don’t have to have seen The Room to understand or enjoy The Disaster Artist, though it couldn’t hurt. The Room is a cult film that since its 2003 release has frequently been lionized as the “worst movie ever made.” Written, directed, and produced by its star, Tommy Wiseau — an enigmatic figure about whom little more is known now than when the film came out over a decade ago — The Room is regularly celebrated with midnight screenings at indie movie theaters around the world, by a rabid fan base that upholds such sacred traditions as hurling plastic spoons at the screen during one key scene.
The Disaster Artist is a movie adaptation of a book of the same name by one of The Room’s stars, Greg Sestero, who is also a close friend of Wiseau’s. In it, Sestero and his co-author Tom Bissell recount the bizarre, almost-unbelievable making of the film, recounting Wiseau’s many eccentricities and noting his seemingly bottomless bank account. Those two factors are the main reasons that The Room — which tells the fairly incoherent story of banker named Johnny (played by Wiseau) whose fiancée, for no particular reason, decides to seduce his best friend Mark (played by Sestero) — ever came to be.
James Franco read the book and loved it so much that he bought the film rights, and the result is The Disaster Artist, which he directed and stars in as Wiseau. And the movie is a pure delight — a funny, fast-paced, heartfelt story of a friendship and a weird dream. Impressively, it will satisfy fans of The Room while remaining completely accessible to those who’ve never seen it.
The Disaster Artist is a delightful, hilarious retelling of the making of The Room
Franco had his work cut out for him in approaching this story; on paper, it’s hard to identify whether it’s a tragic tale of a man with a dream who failed spectacularly in trying to achieve it it, a comedy about a weirdo, or a triumphant tale of unexpected success.
But screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have a special knack for telling stories about relationships — the pair previously wrote 500 Days of Summer, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Spectacular Now — and that’s what The Disaster Artist is centered on: the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero (played by Franco’s brother Dave) as they embark on their endeavor to make The Room. The two met in an acting class in San Francisco; not long after, they would move to Los Angeles to pursue careers in Hollywood.
Wiseau has a strange way of speaking (until very recently, he claimed he was from New Orleans, but he’s actually from Europe) and insisted to Sestero that they were the same age (almost certainly false). He’s got an apparently bottomless bank account, too; “enigmatic” is perhaps the best descriptor for him in real life.
And Franco, with long hair and colored contact lenses, captures Wiseau perfectly: As a character in The Disaster Artist, he’s is played for laughs, of course, but there’s something so empathetic in Franco’s portrayal that you understand him as a person.
The Disaster Artist follows Wiseau and Sestero after their move to Los Angeles, when they both started auditioning for TV and film roles — Sesterk successfully, Wiseau less so. But an idea formed in Wiseau’s mind to make a “real Hollywood movie,” and he convinced Sestero not just to help, but to star in it. They hold casting sessions, buy camera equipment (Wiseau’s insisted the film be shot in both 35mm and HD, even way back in 2003, much to the delight of the equipment sales reps), crew up, and start shooting. And the results are, in every sense of the word, unbelievable.
The Disaster Artist owns its meta-ness
The Disaster Artist is a marvel of stunt casting, which is part of what makes it so fun to watch. Besides the Franco brothers playing Wiseau and Sestero, Sestero’s girlfriend Amber is played by Dave Franco’s real-life wife Alison Brie; James Franco’s long-time friend and collaborator Seth Rogen, who’s also a producer of The Disaster Artist, plays The Room’s script supervisor Sandy Schklair.
And the rest of the cast roster comprises an eye-popping list of actors who are mostly just friends of James Franco’s: Zoey Deutch, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, Megan Mullally, Sharon Stone, Jason Mantzoukas, Melanie Griffith, Randall Park, Hannibal Buress, Paul Scheer, Nathan Fielder, and the list goes on and on. People like J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, and Bryan Cranston show up as themselves. And the real Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero play bit parts, too. (Franco and co. also filmed a shot-for-shot remake of about 25 minutes of The Room, some of which plays at the end of The Disaster Artist.)
In a different film, that parade of famous faces could be distracting. But The Disaster Artist is like a Russian nesting doll of meta-movies: It’s a movie about making a movie with your friends, and it was made by friends. Both this film and the film it’s about were directed by their star. The Room and The Disaster Artist diverge, of course: The former is terrible, whereas the latter is great. And one is considered a comedy now but was meant to be a drama, whereas the other leans into and embraces its comedy.
The Disaster Artist’s one real flaw is that it doesn’t really have much to say — it misses an opportunity to skewer Hollywood and the way it sells a dream of fame and fortune that isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Some of that comes through in Sestero’s book, but the film doesn’t bite. It’s just a romp about a weird tale that spawned a now infamous film, and watching it, you can tell there’s probably a lot more to the story. For example, The Room is misogynistic and disturbing in places, but The Disaster Artist elides that detail entirely. As a result, the film feels a bit shallow.
But The Disaster Artist isn’t really interested in making a grander statement; it’s about a magical friendship and a strange movie, and its primary aim is to make you laugh. In that, it succeeds handsomely. As Tommy Wiseau would say: “This my story, this my life. Be cool.”
The Disaster Artist opens in limited theaters on December 1 and nationwide on December 8.