James Franco directs and stars in this character study of filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (2014) by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. There’s a tendency for biopics like this to pack all the entertaining content into the first half and then they drag on and on, struggling to tell the rest of the story. The Disaster Artist mostly avoids this pitfall.
The Disaster Artist (2017) traces the rise of mysterious and eccentric actor and filmmaker Tommy Wiseau and his tumultuous friendship with the much younger Greg Sestero. Wiseau and Greg meet in an acting class, where Greg is drawn to Wiseau’s fearlessness and determination.
The two decide to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting careers. While Greg is able to land a few bit roles, people are turned off by Wiseau’s strange behavior, accent, and overconfidence. Frustrated by lack of forward momentum, Wiseau decides to write, produce, and direct his own film starring Greg and himself.
The project begins with promise, but things quickly go south as it becomes apparent Wiseau has more confidence than skill or experience. He continually references Hollywood to justify his bizarre behavior (“we’re making real Hollywood movie!”) and refers back to other directors’ outrageous behavior to excuse his own. Ironically, what he produces is so bad it goes down in history as one of the worst films ever made.
I never watched The Room (2003), and I don’t understand people’s fascination with bad movies or why they become cult classics. I guess it’s a way to live vicariously or somehow feel attached to something unique, similar to why reality TV is so popular.
Although Wiseau’s erstwhile friend, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), is the film’s protagonist, James Franco steals the show as Tommy Wiseau. Real-life brothers Greg and James Franco had genuine chemistry on screen, but James is clearly the stronger actor of the two and fully committed himself to the role.
Wiseau is fascinating because he wants all the accolades of stardom and celebrity, without doing any of the work. He thinks he can simply buy his way into infamy, and he actually succeeds, though not in the way he intended.
Much like the appeal of the film it’s centered on, The Disaster Artist is really only interesting in the same way a car accident is interesting to passing motorists. The audience wants to see why the movie is so bad, and learn the secrets of its mysterious creator.
The message of the movie is that entertaining people, even with a bad movie, is redeeming. Despite all the heartache, wasted time, and abuse, Wiseau was able to bring joy to his audience, and we want him to succeed because we all feel like the underdog and all have dreams of creating something other people will appreciate.