The Disaster Artist Review: Trading Spoons for Awards
The Disaster Artist review: Director and star James Franco recreates the making of the best worst movie ever made, and makes it good.
The old adage “truth is stranger than fiction” exists for a reason. Fiction needs to exist within boundaries. When it goes too far it can feel ridiculous, but when it happens in real life you just have to accept it. Filmmaker… make that “filmmaker” Tommy Wiseau fits into that category. Fiction couldn’t invent a guy like him, no one would buy it.
Wiseau is a weird person, who creates weird things, and they tend to be very, very bad. His greatest claim to fame is the 2003 film The Room, which has been called the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” It is bad on a level that is hard to explain easily. It exists in its own genre of bad, but there’s nothing else quite like it, so it has gone on to create a cult following because of it.
But behind the spoons (a staple of all The Room audience screenings – people throw spoons because there is a shocking abundance of spoon-related artwork in the background of the film) and Wiseau’s vaguely European accent that he claims he picked up in New Orleans, the story behind-the-scenes was almost as bizarre as the one on it.
Based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, director and star James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is the story of the making of The Room, but that’s just part of it. It’s also the story of the strange friendship between Wiseau (played by Franco) and The Room co-star, Greg Sestero (played by Franco’s younger brother, Dave Franco).
While the role of Wiseau is the meatier part and offers the majority of the film’s comedic moments, Sestero is arguably the more important of the two. He is the film’s real focus, which makes sense for a lot of reasons, and not just because the real Sestero wrote the book the film is based on. Wiseau is barely human and almost completely unrelatable. A film focusing solely on him would feel like a parody, intentionally or not. Sestero, on the other hand, is an average guy with aspirations of being an actor. He’s a little shy and introverted though, so when he sees the ridiculously over the top Wiseau at an acting class, he is fascinated by his boldness.
The two form an unlikely friendship, despite their differences. Sestero was just 19, while Wiseau was… no one knows for sure (best guess is he was born in 1955). The two head to LA, where they find that it’s exactly as difficult to break into Hollywood as you might think. So, dipping into Wiseau’s mysterious and seemingly limitless funds, they decide to make a movie of their own.
Wiseau, taking the lead, has big ambitions, matched only by the sheer amount of incompetence he brings to the table. From the equipment to the script to the acting, Wiseau’s grandiose vision plays out like a fever dream, culminating in a final product that is the exactly the disaster everyone involved knew it would be – everyone by Wiseau, of course.
If you have seen The Room and appreciate just how bad it is, then The Disaster Artist is an almost surreal experience. James Franco manages to show Wiseau as being just as odd in real life as you might think, and yet he gives him depth. You can almost understand how the real person might think that they are operating on a different level. He has all the daring of a truly committed performance artist, but none of the talent. It’s funny and at times even a little heartbreaking.
Wiseau is also presented as an incredibly lonely person. You can make some guesses as to why – his money may have helped build a bubble around him where he is incapable of accepting the advice of others – but whatever the cause, the loneliness helps to inform the relationship with good-natured and optimistic Sestero, well cast and acted by the perpetually wide-eyed Dave Franco (even with his weird fake-looking beard).
The two Francos (Franci?) act as if they are in different movies, and that’s a smart and deliberate decision by James Franco as a director, in an effort to portray the two in real life. Sestero is a normal guy with a girlfriend looking for acting gigs. Wiseau is a mutant, possibly grown in a lab somewhere and set loose before his education was complete. That difference creates a natural division between the two, balanced by Sestero’s earnest desire to do right by his friend while Wiseau thinks he is being a friend, but his idea of friendship is closer to an AI prototype trying to mimic the concept of friendship after watching several buddy cop films from the 80s.
With a supporting cast that reads like a Judd Apatow reunion tour (including Apatow himself in a small role), Franco stacks the deck with well-known faces in minor parts. Blink and you’ll miss Zac Effron and Megan Mullally, while others like Alison Brie and Seth Rogen have bigger roles, but are very much in the background to the Francian brothers (Francaneese?). There’s a deep and probably deliberate irony that so much talent went into recreating a film like The Room, but maybe you need that to successfully pull off a shot-for-shot recreation of something so supremely weird to begin with.
The Disaster Artist could easily have been an absurd comedy thanks to the absurd source material, but the film is actually smart and layered. Wiseau is the centerpiece, but the friendship is the heart, and it also cuts at the nature of Hollywood and filmmaking. It’s amazing that a film as bad as The Room spawned one as good as The Disaster Artist.
The Disaster Artist Review Conclusion
The Disaster Artist takes a goofy premise and manages to recreate that goofiness while also adding depth to it – that’s credit to Franco as a director and the Franconians (Francicans?) as actors. It also helps that the character of Wiseau is just so crazy he is fascinating. Fair warning though – if you haven’t seen The Room, The Disaster Artist will still entertain, but you’ll miss a big part of why it all works (we recommend Rifftrax’s version).
The Disaster Artist takes makes you feel for these characters even as you laugh at them. That’s a tough rope to walk, but one that the film does well. There’s a good chance that come award season, people will be throwing statues at it rather than spoons.
The Disaster Artist is rated PG-13 with a running time of 105 minutes.