The Room transcends so-bad-it’s-good. In 2003, Tommy Wiseau created a disaster piece on par with Ed Wood’s best (worst?). Just what Johnny and his friends are actually doing in that room is a mystery to everyone but Wiseau himself. However, the experience of watching this movie—especially with an audience—is not to be missed. (If you have yet to do so, take advantage of one of Ciné’s late shows!) It’ll tear you apart… with laughter! The motivations of the characters are sketchy at best, and the tin-ear dialogue is actually improved by the questionable line readings of the “professional” cast. Yet it is more fun than you will have at a theater this year. The only other film that may come close is James Franco’s love letter to The Room.
The Disaster Artist recreates the published recollections of Wiseau’s second lead, Greg Sestero (here played by Dave Franco). Sestero befriends the mysterious auteur (director Franco) in an acting class in San Francisco. Soon, the duo is moving to L.A. to live in Wiseau’s self-described pied-à-terre. Then, Wiseau writes a script to give Sestero and himself a shot at Hollywood stardom after the traditional route of agents and callbacks fails.
The only thing as amusingly strange as The Room is the story of filming The Room. Under the direction of Wiseau, a first-time filmmaker who may have never seen a movie, much less visited a set, the process is tense, off-putting, abusive and the perfect incubator for whatever magnetically awful experiment it creates. A crew of frustrated professionals—headed by the perfect pairing of Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer—are confused and butt heads with Wiseau, leaving Sestero to play peacemaker and, as Wiseau’s sole pal, explain his inscrutable motivations. Inevitably, he cannot, and eventually, the whole strange affair breaks down before a redemptive premiere, arranged by Wiseau to rival that of a true Hollywood release.
The biggest potential risk facing Franco as he recreated The Room and Wiseau for The Disaster Artist is that the result would be a smug, self-satisfied takedown. Fear not, Roomies: Franco feels genuine affection for Wiseau’s debut, as does his core group of pals. The Disaster Artist opens with Kristen Bell, Adam Scott, Kevin Smith and others waxing nostalgic about what they truly believe to be a great work of cinema. Franco’s film, based on a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the excellent screenwriting duo behind 500 Days of Summer and adaptations of The Fault in Our Stars and The Spectacular Now), shares that love and posits Wiseau as an inspirational underdog when one expects casual, comic callousness.
An odd bird himself, Franco seems to earnestly comprehend Wiseau’s vision. His film pays tribute to Wiseau, and his award-worthy performance goes beyond simple impression. Sure, he looks like Wiseau, he dresses like Wiseau (all those belts!), and he sounds like Wiseau, but he also feels deeply like Wiseau. The Room is not a film bereft of emotion; it is simply a film that never has the proper emotion when it should (it laughs when it should cry, etc.).
A lesser filmmaker would seek to simply poke fun at Wiseau’s idiosyncrasies. The intelligent, compassionate Franco knows Wiseau’s failures as a filmmaker are born from a lack of talent, not a lack of heart, a lesson harkening back to Ed Wood, who was gifted his own generous biopic by Tim Burton. Do know that at least one viewing of The Room is a prerequisite for enjoying The Disaster Artist, an exquisite comedy that may make you laugh more than any other in 2017.