Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron and Jacki Weaver
Review: Michael Dalton, Prime Minister
Released in 2003, The Room was an instant failure, only kept in cinemas by its writer, director and star so that it could qualify for Oscar consideration. However, over the years it has garnered a cult following, as people enjoyed its haphazard plot (“I got the test results back and I definitely have breast cancer”), melodramatic dialogue (“YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA”), and in particular, the eccentric performance of its mysterious creator, Tommy Wiseau (‘oh hai Mark”). Now a midnight-screening favourite, The Room enjoys Rocky Horror Picture Show levels of fandom.
The Disaster Artist is based on co-star Greg Sestero's book of the same name, telling the bizarre yet strangely beautiful behind the scenes story of how The Room got made. Much like the book, this is a film that's stranger than fiction, with Tommy Wiseau being a character you simply wouldn't believe if he were made for the silver screen. And yet, this film argues that despite the absurd incompetence of The Room, he was made for the silver screen, just not in the way that he thought. In an introduction before a preview screening at Picturehouse Central, James Franco said how in many ways it was the ultimate Hollywood story, with Wiseau’s reaction to the film almost being one of disappointment that it had taken this long to happen. “If anything we were too late,” he said, “it’s as if it was his plan all along.”
Therefore, not only is Tommy Wiseau a role that an actor like Franco would love to play, but he’s also someone Franco may relate to. Indeed, Franco brings a real understanding and humanity to his portrayal of Wiseau, which goes far beyond mere imitation. Before the film, Franco joked how some people weren't sure if Wiseau was human, but in his hands he undoubtedly is. However, this in no way comes at the expense of inhabiting Wiseau's quirky personality and indecipherable accent, both of which Franco does perfectly. It’s a performance that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and perhaps the finest of Franco’s career.
It is also, without a doubt, his greatest achievement as a director to date. He introduces Tommy Wiseau with great anticipation, the way a superhero film would build up to the reveal of its titular character. Meanwhile, he indulges in late nineties period detail and lovingly recreates many scenes from The Room. In fact, Franco spoke to having recreated half an hour of the film shot for shot, and over the credits the film wonderfully subverts the biopic trope of putting pictures of the actors next to their real-life counterparts. However, perhaps his greatest feat, is avoiding the pitfalls Tommy Wiseau fell into when making his disasterpiece. The irony that Franco is directing and starring in a production about the monstrosity of a film that was directed by and starred the same person is not lost on anyone. Rather than falling down that rabbit hole and dominating the film, this really is an ensemble piece.
His brother Dave plays Greg Sestero, and their built-in brotherly bond really helps to sell the friendship between Tommy and Greg. They balance one another perfectly, with Dave bringing a lovely supportiveness and earnestness to his role. Meanwhile, actors such as Ari Graynor, Jacki Weather and Josh Hutcherson all bring real grace and believability to their brief roles as other members of The Room’s cast. Between them, they share the good-natured enthusiasm that makes this film such a charming watch, and The Room such an endearing failure. It has garnered this status not because it was intentionally made that way, like the current trend of cynically-constructed so bad its good films (Sharknado), but rather because the people involved genuinely thought they were making something worthwhile, driven by a genuine passion for what they did and a desire to succeed.
The film does stray into self-indulgence at times, however it’s not out of a sense of Hollywood people getting together and having a good time at our expense, but rather from them too enthusiastically winking and nudging at fans of The Room, so that they can laugh along with us. While you can see this without watching The Room, it would be a bit like seeing a sequel before the original, or hearing a punch line of a joke before the set-up.
By the time the film reaches its conclusion, it has put a massive smile on your face and told a surprisingly moving and inspirational underdog story. If this really was Tommy Wiseau’s plan all along, then it’s only got one logical conclusion. Let’s finally get him to the Oscars.
Movie Parliament Rating: LANDSLIDE