“It’s so bad, it’s good.” We’ve heard that phrase countless times, referring to the likes of Plan 9 From Outer Space or the filmography of Ed Wood. In 2003, Tommy Wiseau set out to make an award-winning drama. He poured his heart and soul (and a substantial amount of his money) into The Room, a film that has become the most infamous 21st century entry in the canon of It’s So Bad, It’s Good. The journey of The Room from concept to screen is chronicled in The Disaster Artist which finds James Franco in the dual roles of actor and director much like the flawed man he portrays in the film.
At the beginning of the film, Tommy Wiseau is an enigma, an odd charismatic man who frequents acting workshops while clearly lacking the necessary talent. He’s a wannabe, but he has a magnetism to him that attracts aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). Together the two men set out to conquer Hollywood like so many failed actors have before them. As their prospects dry up, they find themselves standing on a rooftop, staring out at the city that is killing their dreams, when Sestero says, “If only we could make our own movie.” And at that moment, The Room is born.
We’ve seen countless films about the relentless pursuit of a dream, but The Disaster Artist takes that theme in interesting, new directions. Should you chase your dreams if you don’t have the talent to make that dream come true? Is there such a thing as unreasonable ambition? Or is a dream, by definition, something that is unattainable, that only a lucky few ever realize through hard work and persistence?
This subtext anchors The Disaster Artist. For a film that is so frequently laugh-out-loud funny, it has a surprising streak of melancholy running through it. The audience understands that Tommy Wiseau doesn’t have the talent to be a filmmaker, but he hasn’t reached that realization yet. We’re in on the joke while the on-screen Wiseau has yet to figure it out.
The Disaster Artist is pitch-perfect in its tone. It could have easily been a mean-spirited take down of a pretentious wannabe filled with easy laughs at Wiseau’s expense. There are thousands of failed movie productions across this country every year. Why is this story special? Why is it worth telling?
Franco and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber have found the humanity in their characters and the universality in their subject matter. We all identify with Wiseau. We all have passions and dreams that we wish we could pursue, and The Disaster Artist taps into our unfulfilled dreams to unlock our grudging admiration, and ultimately our sympathy, for an often unlikable character.
James Franco’s performance is the heart and soul of The Disaster Artist. Wiseau is a Method actor’s dream come true — the strange accent, the odd cadence to his sentences, the long hair and eccentric wardrobe. And while all of those things are present in Franco’s performance, they never become Franco’s performance. He finds the man inside all of the artifice, the beating heart inside the flamboyance. Franco himself has often been accused of taking bizarre approaches to some of his projects, and he’s as well-known for his misfires as he is for his successes. Perhaps he shares a spiritual kinship with Wiseau that allows him to tap so deeply into the filmmaker as a character. Whatever acting alchemy is at work here, Franco deserves attention in the coming awards season.
In an angry world where even our president isn’t above sending out snarky tweets and trolling social media, The Disaster Artist‘s secret weapon is good, old-fashioned heart. The film refuses to judge Tommy Wiseau and his (arguably) foolhardy quest. Instead, it finds the dreamer hidden inside each of us, and it manages to turn the tale of an epic failure into an inspiring, life-affirming story. It’s one of the best films of the year.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.