It is often said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – in other words, what somebody sees as worthless may be of value or significance to another person. In the world of cinema, no better movie exemplifies this idiom than The Room, a once-derided release which has gained a cult following and, more recently, inspired a highly enjoyable biopic about its making.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a youthful San Franciscan who aspires to become a famous screen actor. While he possesses the looks and charm of a Hollywood star, Greg’s stage-fright and lack of talent give him little chance of forging a successful career. That is, until a chance encounter with Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), an idiosyncratic man with long black hair and a thick, unidentifiable European accent whose confidence knows no bounds.
Tommy proves to be an inherently fascinating figure for Greg, with the duo forming something of a bond. This proves beneficial to both parties, with Greg overcoming his shyness, and Tommy regaining interest in becoming a professional performer. To give themselves the best chance of succeeding, the two move to Tommy’s apartment in Los Angeles, there applying for every role they can. Greg has some success, with Iris Burton (Sharon Stone) signing him to her agency, but Tommy is having no luck whatsoever.
Feeling dejected, Tommy decides to kick-start his acting career by starring in a film called The Room, which is to be written, produced and directed by Wiseau himself. After signalling his approval of the script, and accepting the role of co-star, Greg joins Tommy on his mission to create the greatest American drama ever made, buying (rather than renting) the necessary equipment and casting a group of underqualified actors, in what is only the beginning of a tumultuous shoot.
For those who are blissfully unaware (or yet to read this author’s review) The Room is a picture of Hollywood folklore, known for its substandard production values, overabundance of subplots and mesmerisingly bad lead performance; it seemed destined to escape the public’s consciousness, only to later find an audience of sardonic tastes. Gracefully, The Disaster Artist is not a film made exclusively for that same crowd – one could happily watch it without any prior knowledge of Wiseau’s disaster-piece.
Inspiration for The Disaster Artist comes courtesy of the real-life Greg Sestero, whose memoir of the same name detailed the sheer madness that occurred while filming of The Room took place. Those who were fond of Sestero’s writing will be disappointed to know that this picture is not a faithful retelling of those events, with screenwriters Scott Neustadtler and Michael H. Weber having penned a semi-original script which focuses on the rapport between Greg and Tommy.
But that’s far from a bad thing, because their story is one which resonates profoundly with the viewer. Wiseau and Sestero are depicted as two dreamers who constantly meet with failure, no matter how hard they try; there’s conflict to be had when Greg gains a love-interest in Amber (Alison Brie) and again when he must choose between advancing his career or helping his buddy; and it demonstrates how the most unlikely of friendships can also be the most sincere. For a biopic to have this much emotional resonance is very rare indeed.
What allows The Disaster Artist to stand-out most is James Franco. Taking on the dual-role of actor and director, Franco treats Wiseau very kindly, showcasing his many eccentricities and faults without making him seem overly alien, and imitating him in a manner which is respectful rather than mocking. Additionally, he captures Wiseau as an utterly likeable figure who one would willingly spend time with – the audience is enamoured by him, just as Greg Sestero was all those years ago.
It’s remarkable to think that one of this century’s worst films has been turned into cinematic gold. A surprisingly warm and touching movie, The Disaster Artist is a testament to not only Wiseau and Sestero, but to all those whose desire for greatness is eclipsed by their unwarranted failures. Even for those who aren’t fans of The Room, it’s well worth seeing.