You’ll remember if you’ve seen The Room. It’s not the kind of movie you forget, hard as you may try. Released in 2003, it’s a film so terrible, so boundlessly, majestically surreal that it’s achieved cult classic status. All over the world, people still pay good money to go and laugh affectionately with it. It’s not worth trying to explain what The Room is about, and The Disaster Artist doesn’t attempt as much; instead, it tells the story of how it got made.
You don’t need to have seen The Room to find its making-of story intriguing. It stands on its own weird merits. James Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, The Room’s one-of-a-kind creator, a man of indeterminate age and origin. He looks like a vampire who took up wrestling, with bulging muscles and a face built for shadows. He sounds like every Bond villain mixed together. Wiseau is an aspiring star who forms an unlikely friendship with another, more conventional actor, Greg (Dave Franco).
Together they head to Hollywood to make their dreams come true, with the help of Wiseau’s vast riches (again, of indeterminate origin). They can’t find work so they make their own movie, with Wiseau writing, directing and taking the lead role.
It would be simple to just make this a farce and point several mocking fingers at Wiseau, who is awful at all the jobs he gives himself. James Franco, director as well as star, makes a film that’s much kinder, and better. It’s hilarious, because Wiseau’s approach to life is inherently bizarre, but he isn’t always the butt of the joke. Franco pulls back when the treatment of Wiseau starts to look like bullying, and reveals the effect it has on him. There are moments that are honestly heart-wrenching, when a man who has put everything he has into his work sees that people consider him a fool. In its way, it’s a classic Hollywood tale of finding one’s own path to success, and it’s strangely inspiring. This is a very funny, affectionate celebration of a man who did everything he could to make his dreams come true and failed, so he found new dreams.