In 2003, former retail and real estate entrepreneur Tommy Wiseau premiered his self-financed $6m indie flick The Room, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in. Initially paid little attention by audiences and critics, the unhinged love-triangle drama eventually earned a cult reputation as possibly the worst film ever made, a misguided folly full of unexplained motivations, random plot points and deranged overacting. At
giddy late-night screenings, audiences began turning up in ever greater numbers, participating in a raucous experience that gave the millennial generation its very own Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Actor James Franco, now multiple credits into his all-over-the-map filmmaking career, has learned a thing or two about the sometimes-painful chasm between creative ambition and achievement. Franco was a late, enthusiastic convert to The Room, discovering it via The Disaster Artist, the 2013 memoir by Greg Sestero, the aspiring actor who fell under Wiseau’s spell, and who was rewarded (if that’s the right word) with a starring role in the ill-fated feature. Franco responded to the tale of Hollywood misfits, and also the central bromance unravelling as the hapless filmmakers snatched an unlikely victory from the jaws of defeat.
Working from a screenplay by (500) Days Of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, Franco has a blast directing himself as the self-invented Wiseau, whose unfathomable eastern European accent remains one of the man’s many mysteries. Smartly following the contours of the memoir source, the film tells the story through the eyes of Sestero (Dave Franco), the young friend caught up in Tommy’s craziness. Sestero provides a vital point of empathy: what would you do in his shoes, if the key to seeming success was held by a man who, it’s increasingly apparent, has trouble telling the truth and is developing a disturbing controlling instinct?
Although not above mining some easy laughs from the absurdity of The Room’s shoot, The Disaster Artist treats the deluded Wiseau with some affection. Franco’s film is neither cosy celebration nor disdainful satire; it takes care to try to understand a truly original character who struggled to come to terms with his own feelings of loneliness and jealousy. With support from a gifted ensemble that includes Seth Rogen and Jacki Weaver (The Silver Linings Playbook), plus a memorable cameo from Zac Efron, The Disaster Artist benefits from a cast at the opposite end of the talent spectrum to that of The Room.
The outcome shows a filmmaker finally hitting his stride – giving Franco a directorial achievement that matches his many acting ones. In confirming once again that truth really is stranger than fiction, his film proves every bit as entertaining as its deranged inspiration – but, unlike The Room, it is also satisfying, coherent and impressively accomplished.