Review: 'The Disaster Artist'

Ken Jones

  • OnScreen Chief Film Critic

There is a mantra I stumbled across a few years ago that says, “Life’s too short for bad movies,” or something to that effect. It’s a good mantra that I try to follow as best I can. Bad movies are a dime a dozen. But there is the “so bad it’s good” phenomenon that occurs with some bad movies. Most of the time, movies that people claim fit this category are really just bad. There are probably several factors that going into a movie being so bad that it’s good, but two factors that work in tandem seem to be a lack of self-awareness and a high level of unintentional comedy. These are abundantly available in Tommy Wiseau’s infamous 2003 movie, The Room. Having finally seen it within the last two weeks, I can personally vouch for its reputation for being as entertainingly bad as people claimed it was. James Franco’s The Disaster Artist details the making of the The Room and gives us a glimpse at the unique Tommy Wiseau.

Franco, in addition directing the film, stars as Wiseau, an enigmatic figure who aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets in an acting class in San Francisco. While Sestero is meek on stage, Wiseau goes big doing a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, shouting “Stella!” while climbing and writhing all over the place in an unforgettable introduction to the character. They quickly bond and Wiseau’s eccentric boldness brings Greg out of his acting shell. They push one another to pursue their dreams, eventually moving the Hollywood to get into acting, and eventually making their own movie when opportunities fizzle.

The problem is that neither is actually a very good actor and Tommy is not a very talented writer or director. And yet, somehow, The Room gets made. When watching The Room and then looking up information about it, I was shocked to find that the estimated cost of the production was over $6 million. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how it cost that much to be made. Over a decade later, there are no clear answers, either, as to where Tommy got the money to make the movie either, and The Disaster Artist hints at theories, but embraces the mystery of it and the mystery of Wiseau, whose age, where he grew up, and where his money comes from are never explained.

The Franco brothers dominate the film, with James doing a fairly strong Wiseau impression with a funky Eastern European accent (that Tommy claims is because he is from New Orleans) that occasionally sounds like it dips into a Valley Girl tone. Dave Franco’s Greg is essentially the straight man in a very bizarre double act where Tommy, due to his eccentric personality, is the comic relief. Greg, while not a great actor, is more self-conscious and far more self-aware than Tommy. 

An important feature of the film is that it is not just about Tommy and Greg, but about the making of The Room. The glimpse behind the camera into how this movie got made is an interesting one and a funny one, even if it becomes a creative hell for some of them. People sometimes complain that Hollywood loves making movies about itself and the creative process, but this one felt different, maybe because The Room is such an atypical filmmaking experience. It really is a train wreck of a movie set, with Tommy Wiseau clearly someone who is in over his head, but he’s the one paying for it, so people tolerate it. Even when he’s at his most unlikeable, it’s still entertaining because it’s so bizarre.

The cast is filled out with all kinds of people who are friends with Franco and little cameos of various comedians, including Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, Jackie Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder, and small appearances by Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, and Judd Apatow as various acting coaches, agents, and producers, along with numerous other small cameos including Wiseau and Sestero. Rogen, Scheer, Hutcherson, Graynor, Weaver, and other bring the behind the scenes stuff on set to life reacting to the incongruities of the scenes, the frustrations at the multiple takes, and the stress of working with Wiseau.

In the end, The Disaster Artist is not a typical biopic or movie based on a true story, because Wiseau is not a typical subject and The Room is not a typical Hollywood success story. It ends up being as much about the process and the struggle to be creative, how difficult it can be to succeed, but how trying it can be to fail too. But sometimes failure leads to its own kind of success, as The Room has turned into a movie with a cult following. As difficult as someone like Tommy Wiseau may have been to work with, there is something to be said that he had the courage of his convictions and actually get it made, and everyone involved was part of a unique experience. The Disaster Artist embraces the disaster and shows that even if Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero didn’t become Hollywood stars, they did become something: cult heroes.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars