VOD film review: The Disaster Artist
Remaking The Room8
Ivan Radford | On 10, Apr 2018
Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
If you’ve never been in a cinema where people start throwing spoons at the cinema, you’ve never seen The Room. If you have, then you need no introduction to the 2003 film by Tommy Wiseau, a romantic melodrama that just might be one of the worst films ever made – and you won’t need telling that throwing spoons at the screen is one of the least weird things about it.
Why and how the film got made – and exactly who Tommy Wiseau is – has been the subject of debate ever since he and Greg Sestero produced the cult hit. Amazingly, that’s not because Tommy has been an elusive figure – far from it. He’s since declared the movie a black comedy rather than a poorly executed amateur effort, and hosted regular sellout movie nights at London’s Prince Charles Cinema and no doubt many other venues. Fast forward to 2017, and Tommy’s story has finally got the full Hollywood treatment, as James and Dave Franco team up for The Disaster Artist.
It’s an unusual choice for a subject matter (again, if you haven’t done the spoon-throwing thing) but it taps into a rich seam of cinema that also houses the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis and Tim Burton’s Ed Wood – less a celebration of underdog success and more a celebration of failure on one’s own terms.
Franco is unrecognisable as Tommy, who is at once ambitious and childish, a character closer to cartoon than person, with clothes and an enigmatic voice to match (“I’m from New Orleaaaans,” he insists.) Where is he really from? How old is he? Wiseau dismisses them all with a murmuring, bumbling ambiguity – the vague suggestion is that he was able to fund the whole project because he once sold some leather jackets abroad. Franco has his performance perfected, right down to his unnerving laugh.
But while it’s hard not find that blustering ineptitude amusing, The Disaster Artist’s winning move is take the whole thing on face value. Based on Sestero’s own memoir, Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber’s screenplay presents this true behind-the-scenes story as a sincere one. And so we watch as others are sucked into Tommy’s strangely hypnotic drive and creative wishes, including aspiring actor Sestero and script supervisor Sandy Schklair (a brilliantly understated Seth Rogen).
The cast all treat their roles with a straight-faced earnestness that ensures we buy into even the unlikeliest making-of moment – and makes it clear that Tommy’s treatment of his star lady Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor) is entirely inappropriate. And yet it also allows for that shared sense of creative achievement to come to the fore, as this gaggle of outsiders construct their own myth on the fringe of a Hollywood that has rejected them. The tensions that arise on set are as believable and painful as any professional production, and The Disaster Artist grows into an exploration of what happens when one person’s vision has to be brought kicking and screaming into the real world.
While this is undoubtedly an acting showcase, though, The Disaster Artist is backed up by some remarkable technical achievements, flawlessly recreating moments that have since gone viral among film fans – including The Room’s famous rooftop rant that is depicted with documentary-like accuracy. As a result, there’s a gentle note of tragedy to the hilarious absurdity, and The Disaster Artist never lets us forget that this has all actually happened.
There’s an unspoken magic to the way that movie quotes have become an inherent part of the way Tommy expresses himself – “I was home alone too… in real life,” Tommy says at one point – and an unabashed affection between him and Greg. The Francos’ brotherly chemistry underpins that mix of comedy and heart, fused together with a shared love of making movies. It might be a disaster, this ode to wannabes and dreamers sighs wistfully, but the emphasis always lands on the last word in the title.