I’ll get this out of the way first: I’m what you might call an “obsessive” fan of The Room. I’ve seen it at least ten times, been to several screenings, read Greg Sestero’s book, and even met Tommy Wiseau in person. So while I’m not exactly an objective judge of The Disaster Artist’s source material, in a way I’m also especially qualified to write this review. After all, The Disaster Artist is geared toward The Room’s cult following more than any other group, though its story of beating the odds has universal appeal.
The (mostly true) story is this: Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor in late 90s San Francisco. Afraid of failure and embarrassment, he’s immediately drawn to his mysterious acting classmate Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), who is utterly fearless when it comes to performing despite his negative dramatic ability. When Greg asks him to be his scene partner, he unknowingly begins a long, strange friendship, one that eventually leads to the making of Tommy’s self-written/directed/starred opus, The Room. Under the erratic, incomprehensible leadership of Tommy, the shoot becomes as much of a debacle as the now-infamous final product.
Any fan of The Room will get a kick out of seeing movie stars act out the roles of its iconic characters, the casting of whom ranges from the solid (Zac Efron as Dan / ‘Chris-R’) to the uncanny (Josh Hutcherson as Philip / ‘Denny’). Franco is revelatory in the lead, his performance capturing all of Tommy’s signature tics while never devolving into caricature. His brother Dave is also strong as audience surrogate and straight man Greg, though he resembles his real-life counterpart less than any other cast member. The script, largely lifted from the book, does a nice job turning several years’ worth of events into a cohesive story. There are a few flaws here and there; the brief interviews with celebrity fans in the opening come across as indulgent and unnecessary, better suited to a DVD special feature than to the movie itself. And the direction’s staunch unobtrusiveness sometimes veers into stylistic flatness. But these are minor criticisms of an easy-to-love movie.
They say the best parody comes from a place of affection, and The Disaster Artist is no exception. Though Franco and co. fully acknowledge Tommy’s risible quirks, as well as the darker aspects of his personality, the movie emerges firmly on his side; presenting him as a figure not to ridicule but to root for. Just like the book it’s based on, The Disaster Artist recognizes the oddly inspirational quality of its subject matter. It’s a heartfelt tribute to following your dreams no matter what, and Tommy’s lack of any discernible creative talent only makes it more touching. An underdog story if ever there was one, it ends up earning more genuine uplift than any of Hollywood’s feel-good pap, and all the while slays as a laugh-out-loud comedy. If anything, The Disaster Artist will endear even more people to The Room and its eccentric, ever-determined creator, whose famously terrible movie already has scores of adoring fans. To quote a certain someone: that’s life.