You’ve been to dozens of midnight showings, have practically committed the script to memory, and have even made a tradition of greeting your closest friends with an emphatic, “Oh hai Mark.” In other words, you love The Room. But can you truly say, in all sincerity, that you love The Room?
Such is the question that drives The Disaster Artist, at once a love letter to and a giddy evisceration of Tommy Wiseau and his one-of-a-kind cult phenomenon. To be sure, a bulk of the fun of The Disaster Artist is had at the expense of Wiseau and The Room, much in the same spirit of the thriving tradition of the picture’s late night screenings. From the get-go, we’re invited to laugh at the atomically bizarre Tommy, as mimicked by a lumbering James Franco, even when marveling at his bravado through the wide eyes of dopey aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). As the second act of the film sends the pair into the thick of production on The Room, we are likewise encouraged to cackle as the travesty that arises in every endeavor to shoot a scene or rationalize an inscrutable creative decision.
Of course, there is another layer to the merriment in The Disaster Artist. If you are indeed the class of character I allude to in this review’s introduction, then you’re exactly who The Disaster Artist is catering to: someone who knows The Room and Tommy Wiseau well enough to not only get a kick out of seeing beloved sequences reproduced by way of the Francos’ rogues’ gallery of funnymen, but to swell with elation over the mere anticipation of the film’s attempt at an iconic The Room moment. (I can’t remember the last time I felt such palpable excitement from a viewing audience than in the seconds leading up to my showing of The Disaster Artist’s take on, “Hi doggy!”).
It’s none too surprising that a film about the making of another, especially one with such a cultural standing as The Room has accumulated, would request of its viewers regular donations from their own personal histories with the focal project for the benefit of investment. But just as The Disaster Artist asks you to think of its real world subject to double down on the laughter, it demands you bear in mind its own star and director to keep the laughter in check.
Imbued with his own divisive but wholly vivid personal mythology, James Franco is just as important character to The Disaster Artist as Tommy is. Franco has filled out the latter era of his career embracing subjects like Mr. Wiseau: the rejected, the detested, the confounding, the weird. What we know about the multihyphenate based on esoteric projects and an offbeat public persona is enough for us to trust that he embarked upon The Disaster Artist not as a mission to mock Tommy Wiseau, but to celebrate him.
To this end, Franco’s less-than-transformative performance actually works in the film’s favor; without constant reminders to the benevolent mind behind the picture, the innate alienation of the long-haired oddball affixed center stage occasionally risks reading cruel and contemptuous.
Despite his best efforts and intentions, Franco doesn’t seem to have figured out how to humanize Tommy Wiseau. Instead, we’re granted passage to the story of Tommy through an impeccably earnest Greg, who sees the magic in his strange friend even when he can’t quite excuse, let alone make sense of, his behavior. This distance does allow us to revel in the mysticism of the dreamer that is Tommy, but also to laugh uproariously at his every vexing moan or unfathomable choice.
Whether it’s a fault that The Disaster Artist insists we keep both its meta-textual actor-directors in mind to carry its laughter and heart through to completion, I’m truly not entirely certain. If we’re able to love The Room as much as we do despite, well, hating it, then the usual rules seem to be out the window… like a television set thrown in a fit of betrayal-induced rage.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 burritos
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Say “Oh hai!” to Michael on Twitter @micarbeiter.