There was always going to be an intrinsic difficulty in adapting Greg Sestero‘s memoir The Disaster Artist to a cinematic format. Never mind that the book is full of hypothetical suppositions about the origins of The Room director Tommy Wiseau and literary comparison to The Talented Mr. Ripley, but the basic narrative was always going to be in danger of being overwhelmed by the personality of a performer’s ability or inability to capture the bizarre personality and mannerisms of Mr. Wiseau. Thankfully, we can put those fears to rest, as James Franco directs himself as an astounding representation of the famed auteur behind one of the worst films of all time, but in doing so he never loses sight of the core of Wiseau’s and Sestero’s story: an unconventional and intense friendship that endures over everything.
If you are somehow unfamiliar with The Room, it is a movie notoriously known for being the bizarre brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, who produced, directed, wrote, and starred in the film despite having no prior professional experience in any of those roles. The Disaster Artist picks up a few years prior to the film’s production with the fateful meeting of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, who shockingly enough doesn’t bear an uncanny resemblance to his brother in this film) at an acting class. Greg is a potentially talented actor who lacks the public confidence to promote himself in a career-defining way, while Tommy is a bombastic persona who is wholly unsuited to the types of leading roles he always imagines himself in. Together the two discover an enduring relationship that’s pushed to the limit as Greg is roped into Tommy’s cinematic ambitions.
Now, any film that depicts the creation of The Room is necessarily going to need to capture the enigmatic presence of Tommy Wiseau, and James Franco is remarkably up to the task. It isn’t enough to merely capture Wiseau’s fashion sense, his awkward lumbering movements, or his infamously indefinable accent, though James Franco does so with alarming accuracy. Rather, James Franco finds in Tommy’s character his humanity. James Franco’s Wiseau is vain and jealous, but he is so out of an intense loneliness borne from an extreme difference between himself and literally everyone else in the world. Greg’s basic acts of kindness are something Tommy latches onto with entirely too much force, but it’s that internal struggle that makes Tommy a compelling character beyond just his eccentricities.
Thankfully, James Franco doesn’t let his performance overwhelm the film, even if his delivery offers up some of the choicest comic moments. Dave Franco’s performance as the struggle-weary Sestero is pitch-perfect, both for its dramatic gravity and as an impression of the real-life figure. This is a story of two wildly different people coming together out of shared ambition, and Sestero is wisely portrayed as an equal party to the film’s shenanigans, even if Wiseau is ultimately in control of the creative and financial decisions that led to the creation of The Room. And, of course, the film wouldn’t be complete without recreations of some of The Room‘s most iconic scenes, which are hilariously framed with representations of the film’s cast and crew including Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Seth Rogan, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, and Hannibal Buress.
The only major misstep The Disaster Artist takes is in the moments of gratuitous fan-service, wherein James Franco belts out lines from The Room as regular dialogue in ways that strain credulity. Even so, this is a minor issue that doesn’t detract for how sincere and empathetic the film is to its leads. It’s easy to imagine a version of The Disaster Artist that treats Tommy Wiseau as the punchline of a joke, but instead we come to understand Tommy even as we laugh at is strange antics. He’s a man who found his calling to make people laugh entirely by accident, and James Franco’s film truly captures how that struggle for success shaped the infamous disaster film we’ve come to love.
If you haven’t seen The Room or want to hear from someone seeing it for the first time, check out our editorial account of a party screening of the cult classic!