For many of its fans, to know The Room is to know its eccentric Polish-Cajun-whatever-he-is creator, Tommy Wiseau - by and large because of the side-splitting terribleness of it. Wiseau’s fan-proclaimed masterpiece is a tremendous celebration of anti-acting, unbearable writing and reused love scenes - a perfect example of how not to make a movie, by all accounts. But the worship that this 2003 movie of love and betrayal in San Francisco has slowly garnered for itself is no fluke. Wiseau himself is a pretty out-there dude, after all. All you have to do is put the man beside his ‘work’ and you have the perfect formula for a fervent cult sensation.
Plus, viewed from another angle, The Room is also a rallying cry against the Power of ‘No’ - a bloody-minded attempt (allegedly to the tune of $6m from Wiseau’s own bank account) to make a dream happen, and raise two middle fingers up against an industry that prides itself on its elitism. The Disaster Artist attempts to cover both these takes on Tommy’s accidental genius, and for anyone who’s a part of Wiseau’s following, does so in hilarious fashion. If you’re on the outside of that self-perpetuating feedback loop though (or simply don’t get why it exists), a lot of its frequently daft farce is likely to be missed. To know The Room, alas, is also to give this movie’s comedy another level of appreciation - and proves in parts that the only time that laughing at yourself isn’t a sign of self-absorption is when everyone else is in on the joke.
Speaking for myself personally, I’m definitely within the ‘in’ camp. I’ve still yet to read the original, same-titled book that this movie bases itself on - penned by Room actor Greg Sestero, detailing the time spent with the primadonna-esque, tyrannical Wiseau on his self-directed pet project, and the unlikely friendship that sprung from it. But I have seen The Room itself, and it is frankly the greatest bad movie ever made. Clearly Seth Rogen, James Franco and co. feel the same way, because the amount of dedication that has gone into this tribute to a very unique individual shows from the get-go. On-screen Tommy (James Franco, clearly taking Tommy’s role so seriously that he directs here too) and on-screen Greg (Dave Franco) first meet at a Jean Shelton acting class in San Francisco. To suggest that the pair struggle with their art is an understatement. When Greg is pulled from a laboured, anxious attempt to emulate the drama of an excerpt from Waiting For Godot, his replacement, Tommy, re-enacts a climactic scene from A Streetcar Named Desire - descending into the kind of ridiculous groaning and writhing not too far removed from his final scene in The Room. Both are eviscerated for their attempts at acting, but Greg sees something in Tommy’s performance - not talent for sure, but certainly fearlessness. He suggests the pair get together for the next class’ focus on Hamlet, and the rest is history - and a whole lot of infamy too.
It’s safe to say James Franco delivers on all the promise of The Disaster Artist’s trailer by giving us a lead performance that gets Tommy spot-on - if such a thing can be done. After all, Wiseau still remains an enigma - a man who gives away few details about his origin or his bottomless wallet, gives his friends custom “Tommy’s Planet” pen caps, and insists on having his own toilet on the set of his own movie (at least if this movie is anything to go by). He clearly bore his soul in the making of The Room, and yet still so little about him is known - save for his bizarre takes on acting and screenplay writing. Here though, he’s portrayed by Franco - perfectly unplaceable accent intact - as not just the oddball the Internet and media see him as. He’s also an unafraid underdog - a man completely at odds with the norms of society, without ever letting such a small detail keep him from his ambitions. Irrespective of the frequent gags, silly one-liners and his own diva tantrums (which Franco delivers with hilarity), he’s a figure worthy of empathy just as much as a punchline. And even if theirs is a chemistry born purely from a sibling partnership, both Francos convey Greg and Tommy’s friendship with both the comedy and understanding it deserves - especially when it comes under threat from the ever-spiralling trajectory of Tommy’s ego.
The rest of the cast also carry their roles well, whether they be the bemused fellow actors on Wiseau‘s ill-fated project, or the even more incredulous studio workers trying in vain to make it all work. Seth Rogen is of particular prominence - and particularly good form - as Sandy Schklair, Tommy’s long-suffering script supervisor on set. As for Tommy’s fellow Room cast, the likes of Ari Graynor (as Juliette Danielle / “Lisa”), Jacki Weaver (Carolyn Minnott / “Claudette”) and Josh Hutcherson (Philip Haldiman / “Denny”) all end up as minor players in Greg and Tommy’s story. But their use as fellow Hollywood dreamers who slowly realise their big film break hinges entirely on the chaotic whims of a madman becomes a recurring plot point that gets repeatedly funnier as the film goes on. As a whole, they’re helped extremely by a shrewd script that keeps its dialogue tight and amusing, refusing to waste too much time on one gaffe before moving along to the next. And, of course, there’s that positive message of ‘standing up for your dreams’ which lies underneath all of the parodizing and mickey-taking. Even as Tommy storms out of the premiere screening of his work - which is met by its audience first with derision, then outright laughter and mockery - Greg is there to remind him that they at least produced something, and the crowd was entertained. Bittersweet and often derisive of its focal character as it may be, The Disaster Artist still makes sure to offer him props when all is said done - and concludes itself in heartwarming, semi-congratulatory fashion.
However, with this being a keen attempt at depicting an unlikely cult icon, there are also a fair few times when The Disaster Artist chooses to congratulate itself. As funny as this movie can be, it can also be very self-contented. Not to mention self-contained - a lot of the gags and references to The Room here are certainly done with an additional knowing wink in the direction of its target fanbase. Those in the know will absolutely love such moments. Those without the knowledge should still enjoy them, but will miss the subtleties. And while the film might try to bridge part of this gap with a closing credit side-by-side comparison of The Disaster Artist’s version of The Room, it’s probably not enough for non-fans to be able to fully embrace this movie. Nonetheless, The Disaster Artist can be still classed as a triumph - a frequently funny movie given its laughter via James Franco’s excellent performance, and its fun via his canny direction.