“The Disaster Artist” is a wacky comedy film based on one bizarre real-life figure and his nutty filmmaking which led to one of the most awful films in the movie history. Although the movie is often frustratingly vague about who he is and what makes him tick, I must admit to you that I could not help but laugh at lot while watching a number of hilariously loony moments in the film, and that undeniable hilarity compensates for its several notable shortcomings to some degrees.
The real-life figure in question is Tommy Wiseau, and some of you have probably heard about him and his infamous film “The Room” (2003), which has steadily gained its cult status since its modest premiere at a small LA theater in 2003. I must confess that I have not seen that movie yet, but I have heard about its sheer awfulness from others, and, as far as I can see from what is painstakingly recreated in “The Disaster Artist”, it is one of those memorably bad films you cannot possibly forget for good reasons including incongruous plot, lousy acting, and incompetent direction.
The story is mainly told via the viewpoint of Greg Sestero (Jimmy Franco), a young struggling actor who comes across Wiseau in San Francisco, 1998. They happen to attend the same acting class, and Wiseau, played by director James Franco with commendable bizarreness, gives Sestero and other students an unforgettable moment when he volunteers to demonstrate his, uh, acting ability in front of everyone. Quite impressed by Wiseau’s ‘performance’, Sestero approaches to Wiseau after the class is over, and that is the beginning of their odd friendship. Although Wiseau is usually odd and elusive in his words and behaviors, Sestero is eager to be his friend, and he eventually moves into Wiseau’s expensive apartment, which is full of many various things but does not show much about Wiseau except one photograph shot in Paris.
It looks like Wiseau is a very rich guy, but he does not tell a lot about where his money comes from, and he is also quite vague about when and where he was born. He says that he is from New Orleans, but it is hard to believe him as we constantly notice his weird accent. Always looking like being stuck in his apparently delusional mindset which is probably as nutty as Don Quixote’s, he really seems to believe that he can be a great actor, and Sestero is willing to be his friend’s Sancho Panza.
Several months later, they move to LA for boosting their acting careers, and they quickly settle in Wiseau’s another apartment, but, not so surprisingly, things do not go well for both of them. Sestero tries as much as he can, but he keeps finding himself stuck in anonymity like many young performers out there in Hollywood. In case of Wiseau, he surely draws attention wherever he goes, but he always gets rejected or ridiculed due to his idiosyncratic behavior and insensitive attitude, and there is an amusing moment when he tries a different accent at one audition. He seems to try hard, but he becomes far more awkward than before, and we cannot help but cringe and laugh while watching this weird sight.
Eventually, Wiseau comes to decide that he should write and make a movie for himself, and Sestero is fully supportive of it. A few years later, Wiseau finally finishes writing the screenplay for his first movie which is titled, yes, “The Room”, and then he proudly presents it to Sestero. Filled with many crappy lines (My favorite: “Do you know that chocolate is the symbol of love?”), the screenplay is not exactly good to say the least, but Sestero is happy to know that he is going to play one of the main characters in the movie, and he and Wiseau soon take the first step for the production of their movie.
The rest of the movie focuses on the insanity of Wiseau’s filmmaking process, and the adapted screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, which is based on “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made” by Greg Sestero Tom Bissell, continues to give us cheerfully wacky moments to remember. When Wiseau and Sestero come to a camera rental shop, the owners of the shop are flabbergasted by how utterly clueless Wiseau is about filmmaking, but they decide to go along with that because Wiseau is willing to pay them a lot, and they even provide a studio for Wiseau’s production. During the eventual production of “The Room”, the cast and crew members are all confounded by Wiseau’s endless quirks, so they naturally come to have serious doubts on the movie, but they keep going on because, well, they get paid for that at least.
Franco gathers a bunch of notable performers for this part, but they are mostly under-utilized in their underdeveloped roles. Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, and Zac Efron have some little fun as their performer characters are pushed into many silly moments thanks to Wiseau, but their characters remain superficial on the whole, and so does Sestero’s girlfriend played by Alison Brie, who does as much as she can do with her functional role. In case of Seth Rogen, who also participated in the production of the movie, he did a good job of keeping his face straight in front of Franco’s offbeat acting, but then he has nothing much to do besides that.
And I think the movie could go deeper into its subject instead of merely laughing at his absurdity. Later in the story, Sestero finally comes to decide that enough is enough, so he pushes Wiseau with several questions, but Wiseau does not answer to any of these questions, and neither does the movie, which just takes a shortcut to its expected final act after that point. Although Dave Franco is effectively earnest in his role and he and his brother have a good comic chemistry on the screen, the movie does not seem to have sufficient understanding of their characters’ relationship, and we are only baffled as wondering why Sestero lets himself associated with Wiseau from the beginning.
While watching “The Disaster Artist”, I was reminded of Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994), which was about another notoriously bad filmmaker in real-life. That movie also generates lots of laughs from how pathetic and incompetent its goofy hero is, but it is also filled with considerable respect and affection, and we come to understand and emphasize with him more than expected. Compared to “Ed Wood”, “The Disaster Artist” lacks depth and insight, but it does provide some good laughs along with enough curiosity and amusement, so I recommend it anyway despite my reservation.