Considering “cult films” are meant to be a rarity not appreciated by mainstream audiences, there sure are a lot of them! In fact, if you look at the collection of cult films that Wikipedia lists, there are currently 1,752 entries. (Considering this list also includes E.T., the highest grossing American movie of 1982, I’m not entirely sure it’s accurate!)
But the 2003 independent film, The Room, directed, written, produced and starring Tommy Wiseau, undoubtedly deserves to be on this list. Firmly rejected on its original release, The Room would nonetheless go on to be embraced by millions all across the world, and even today still plays to sold-out screenings.
While many of these cult films are shunned during their original release; they tend to pick up the famous label because they generally have some thread of positivity, whether that be passable acting, slightly above average visual effects, a half-decent plot, reasonable production values, or decent cinematography.
The Room has none of these.
And The Disaster Artist knows it!
Adapted from Greg Sestero & Tom Bisell’s best selling book: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made; The Disaster Artist follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) in his journey to try and gain a foot on the acting ladder.
However, at an acting class he meets up with fellow aspiring actor Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). A rather odd individual who refuses to talk about his past, Wiseau takes Sestero under his wing and they both move to L.A. in search of the Hollywood dream.
But while Sestero makes a little headway in his career, Wiseau is an utter trainwreck, and unable to obtain work anywhere. Eventually he hits upon the idea of creating his own work and holes himself up to write the screenplay of what would eventually become The Room. But a finished screenplay is only the beginning of a long and arduous journey that threatens to tear apart the two men’s friendship.
Having directed over 30 full-length and short films (and starring in many of them), James Franco isn’t exactly a stranger to the stresses and challenges that must be confronted when trying to bring a story to the silver screen.
Because of this, it’s somewhat easy to imagine the camaraderie that Franco must have felt when learning about Tommy Wiseau’s struggle to bring his own work to life. Maybe that’s why Franco chose himself to play the lead.
And what a lead he plays! It might be strange to say, but in performing the worst film role in recent history, Franco may have also given the best performance of his career. Utterly bizarre in every way, he brings to life, not only Wiseau’s poor sense of human behaviour and dress sense, but also his drive to create something worthwhile.
It’s that drive that makes The Disaster Artist far more than just a comedy. It’s fundamentally about a man trying to be better. To create something that could outlast himself, even though he has absolutely no discernible talent to speak of. It’s arguably a far more realist and feasible portrayal of struggle than, say, last year’s La La Land.
Musical aspects aside, La La Land was happy to throw away nearly 100 minutes of believable struggle in exchange for an unearned happy ending that suggested said struggle for fame and fortune was relatively easy. But The Disaster Artist understands (admittedly in part because it’s based on a true story) that even the longest endeavour and the biggest dream can sometimes result in nothing. Wiseau, as eccentric as he is, had the same dream that so many of us struggling artists have had.
Indeed, Wiseau himself is such an interesting and over-the-top character, it would have been incredibly tempting to make him the lead. However, films like 2015’s Black Mass show that this doesn’t always work, and fortunately writers Scott Neustadler and Michael H. Weber avoid falling into this trap by making Sestero the lead character.
Played by Dave Franco, the real-life brother of James, Sestero is our gateway into this world; essentially the straight man to Wiseau’s unconventional persona. But their relationship ends up forming the heart of The Disaster Artist. I can only imagine that being two real-life brothers helped greatly in bringing out the heartfelt dynamic between the two characters as they struggle to become something greater.
The overwhelming focus on the duo, however, means that most other characters are pushed to the background. The female characters in particular, such as Alison Brie as Sestero’s suffering girlfriend, or Ari Graynor as The Room‘s female lead, are so underused they might as well be non-existent.
But these problems end up being minor quibbles. Especially when an overwhelming number of Hollywood’s comedians are brought on board to fill out these smaller roles. Seth Rogan, Paul Scheer, Megan Mullally and Jason Mantzoukas are just a few of these names. And brilliantly, they all play it straight, leaving Wiseau to shine through as the film’s only outlandish character.
It’s not difficult to perceive The Disaster Artist as just a comedy. Indeed, it would have been easy for Franco and his team to mock the entire process behind the making of The Room.
But instead it’s clear that the entire creative team of The Disaster Artist understood Wiseau’s (admittedly unique) vision, and did their best to respect it by making their film a heartfelt tribute to creators and dreamers everywhere.