Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau met at a San Francisco acting class in 1998. A young, nervous model, Greg was amazed by the bombastic, crazed performances of Tommy. Greg agreed to be his scene partner and had soon moved to Tommy’s LA apartment on a peppercorn rent.
As Greg started to find some success as an actor in Hollywood, a jealous Tommy decided to make himself a star, pumping six million dollars into a film he wrote, directed, produced and played the male lead. Greg was given a supporting role, and the cult ‘best worst movie ever made’ The Room was born.
Like many others, my experience with The Room began watching with friends, before cinema screenings and listening to audiobook The Disaster Artist written by Tom Bissell and Greg Sestero himself. This book is revelatory not just for its depiction of the massive tensions on the set of The Room as Tommy’s behaviour cost him crew after crew, but in showing the strange, interdependent friendship of Tommy and Greg.
The Disaster Artist film adaptation plays off the ironic success of The Room, now played to packed midnight screenings in a manner akin to The Rocky Picture Show. It is also able to deftly pit the emotional core of the film Greg (Dave Franco), against the force of nature that is Tommy Wiseau (played by James Franco).
James Franco is able to capture some of the bizarreness of Tommy, most memorably in a scene where Tommy prances around naked while bellowing orders at an enraged crew. Franco has finally found the role where he can be as weird as he likes, thanks to Tommy’s unplaceable accent, black locks, missing millions, and unwavering narcissism.
The script is a lighter version of the downright madness Greg Sesestro recalled, and while amusing before shooting of The Room starts it could have done with some more of that deranged bent. Seth Rogen also comes into The Disaster Artist at this point, and is a highlight as the bemused script supervisor Sandy.
What is an enjoyable film takes on a whole new level at the premiere, as the loving homages to The Room comes to life. Seeing James Franco do his take on ‘you’re tearing me apart!’ and the many other classics is a reminder of what makes watching The Room so hilarious in the first place.
The Disaster Artist has huge fun imitating scenes of The Room, even showing their recreation side by side with the original (one with HD cameras and the other in 35mm, a nod to Wiseau’s inexplicable decision to shoot in both formats simultaneously).
It’s clear the Franco brothers love The Room and its cult fans. This film is unashamedly made for them, talking head celebrities opening The Disaster Artist by waxing lyrical about their own obsession with Wiseau’s ‘masterpiece’. As one of the converted to the ‘so bad it’s enjoyable’ this made the film all the better, though I also questioned how much crossover appeal The Disaster Artist will ever have to those with no previous knowledge of The Room.
The most obvious comparison to The Disaster Artist is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a biopic of the director who made the notoriously awful Plan 9 From Outer Space. While both are ready to mock their subject’s failures, Franco and Burton also have a clear admiration for their subject’s tenacity. We can all deride Tommy Wiseau, but what feature film have you made recently?
NB: Any The Room fans should stay until the final post-credits scene.