Why “The Disaster Artist” must be seen
Film history was changed in 2003 when a movie called “The Room” was unleashed on the world. Released only in one Los Angeles theater, this film was meant to be a Tennessee Williams-style melodrama, but viewers noticed it had incredible flaws: scenes were rushed, plot threads were abandoned altogether, the dialogue sounded like broken English and the acting was either wooden or over-the-top.
It was a perfect unintentional comedy, and at the center of it all was the movie’s director, producer, writer and lead actor: Tommy Wiseau, an eccentric, mysteriously wealthy aspiring actor who claimed to be from New Orleans, spoke with an Eastern European accent, and refused to reveal his true age.
In an era where so-bad-it’s-good humor ruled the Internet, “The Room” became a sensation. Midnight screenings across the world saw fans throw spoons and footballs at the screen and shout lines with the characters. Wiseau embraced his ersatz fame as the man behind the “worst movie ever,” traveling to showings and meeting fans.
On the movie’s 10th anniversary, Wiseau’s costar and friend Greg Sestero published a memoir, “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room,’ the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made,” detailing the chaos of the film’s production and his friendship with Wiseau.
Now, 14 years after “The Room’s” premiere, Sestero’s book has been adapted into “The Disaster Artist,” produced, directed by and starring James Franco as Wiseau, with his brother Dave Franco as Sestero. The film received raves at South by Southwest and the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, and goes into wide release on Dec. 8.
I’ve read Sestero’s book and seen “The Room” at least five times, which makes me the perfect audience for the movie. So I’m a bit biased when I say “The Disaster Artist” is my favorite movie of 2017.
Note I don’t think it’s the “best” movie of 2017, but on a level of sheer enjoyment, I haven’t found a better example this year than this weird, yet totally charming film.
The best term to describe “Disaster Artist” is “fan nonfiction,” a true story with some fabrications to accentuate the real-life behavior of the major players, namely, Wiseau and Sestero. Nevertheless, nothing in the film feels forced or fake; it knows the inherent comedy and ridiculousness of the story but still treats its subject with respect.
Franco had an unenviable task in playing Wiseau. The man is a walking meme made up of odd accents and mannerisms. He lives in utter secrecy, never telling anyone his age, nationality or real name (though he told Jimmy Kimmel last week that he is “from Europe”).
Sestero’s book adds a malevolent layer, showing Wiseau’s tantrums and paranoia on the production of his masterwork. Yet, Franco accomplishes the impossible in his performance. By looking past all the enigmas about Wiseau, he manages to humanize him, delivering one of the best performances of the year in the process.
Another major hurdle for Franco and company was how to make the film work for those who are unfamiliar with “The Room.” This was addressed through having Sestero act as the audience surrogate, exploring his mixed feelings about being plunged into a friendship with Wiseau.
Additionally, the film sees an emphasis on Wiseau’s desire to achieve the American Dream, which in his eyes is becoming an actor. Throughout the montage of Wiseau and Sestero going on auditions and acquiring varying degrees of success, the former is told he’d make a great villain, but that’s not what he wants. Wiseau sees himself as an All-American guy, and when he cannot find someone who will cast him as such, he writes a script of his own to accomplish his goal. What could be more relatable?
Ironically, the reason “The Room” was shown for one week in a Los Angeles theater so many years ago was that Wiseau wanted his “real Hollywood movie” to qualify for the Academy Awards. With “The Disaster Artist” gaining Oscar buzz, Wiseau has finally come full circle.