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In 2003, Tommy Wiseau released a film now widely understood as the worst film ever made. The Room, which Wiseau wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, is a story about the perfect man, Johnny (a businessman clad in ill-fitting suits) whose “future wife” (never “fiancee”), Lisa, grows tired of him and starts hooking up with his reluctant-yet-consenting best friend, Mark.
The Room is a myriad of confusing characters, unexplained entrances and exits, repetitive phrasing, and all-round bonkers storytelling. Nothing about it makes sense — not the message, not the plot, and certainly not the story of how it got made. Which is why Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s best friend and the actor who played Mark, wrote it down for all to ogle in his 2013 memoir The Disaster Artist.
See, part of what makes The Room so endlessly intriguing is Tommy Wiseau — the crazily loaded man with the Eastern European accent who insists he’s from New Orleans. Back in the early 2000s, Wiseau, frustrated by the way Hollywood was treating him as an actor, decided to use his bottomless pit of wealth to produce his own creation.
In his memoir, Sestero wrote that Wiseau wanted to make a proper “American movie” lead by himself, the “All-American hero” who looks and talks like a Bond villain. It would be filmed on a film and digital camera, both of which Wiseau would buy, because he was serious about the movie and above the industry standard of renting equipment. Most of all, the US$6-million film would make him a star.
In the early days, it didn’t. The first theatrical release produced just over US$1800 in revenue, but one viewer, obsessed with its badness, coerced his friends into joining him back in the theatre — and soon hordes of viewers were caught by The Room’s so-bad-it’s-goodness.
Now, 15 years after the film’s release, James Franco has adapted Sestero’s memoir into an Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning film that will enamour viewers already invested in The Room while intriguing those who aren’t.
The Disaster Artist follows Sestero (Dave Franco), an aspiring actor with little talent, as he befriends the similar Wiseau (James Franco). Together, they venture to Los Angeles, where they intend to take the industry by storm. They don’t, and The Room is born.
Much of what makes The Disaster Artist so alluring is Franco’s on-the-nose impression of the aloof Wiseau. Not only does he look and sound just like him, but Franco embodies the distant yet dedicated man who wants so desperately to fit in.
Franco also brings a humanity to Wiseau not available at first glance — he gets scared, he gets jealous, he yearns to be seen. Through Franco’s performance, The Disaster Artist avoids being a film that laughs at incompetent people and becomes a beguiling take on the American dream and the longing for more.
But the The Disaster Artist works best as a feature length trailer for The Room. The film flourishes when it uses lines from The Room as punchlines, or when members of the cast point out how nothing makes sense.
The Disaster Artist won’t stand the test of time as well as The Room, because it offers nothing new
The Disaster Artist is delightful, heartwarming, and embraces The Room‘s hilarity — but it won’t stand the test of time as well as its predecessor, because it offers nothing new. To fans of The Room, the biopic is a reminder of all the reasons to love the absurd passion project: the many mysteries of Tommy Wiseau, its autobiographical feel, the film’s surprise place in cinematic history. To those who’ve never seen it, it reels them in for more.
Films about films always risk sacrificing their sticking power. They become liminal spaces — pit stops rather than destinations. The Disaster Artist refers viewers to The Room, encourages them to watch it, and inevitably removes itself from conversation.
In a few years, The Disaster Artist will be a small talking point in the discourse around The Room. But it’s a noble cause, and one many new inductees to the lore of The Room will be grateful for the role Franco played in spreading the word.
But that’s the future: for now, The Disaster Artist offers up 1h44m of comedic relief, an endearing cast of characters, and an insight into what the mega-rich will do to be relatable. It’s quirky, it’s funny, and it’s open to those who obsessed with The Room, and those who’ve never heard of it.
But after you watch The Disaster Artist? Grab a group of friends, some drinks, and enjoy yourself the farcical joy of The Room.