Tommy Wiseau is a strange type of idiot savant, one whose capacity for genius arises from his stupidity rather than in spite of it. Arguably the most brilliantly bad film ever made, The Room – financed, directed, produced by, and starring Wiseau – has achieved cult status in large part because of its creator’s ineptitude. Combined with his mysterious East European origins and the fashion sense of a make-up free Gene Simmons, Tommy’s alchemical crappiness has propelled him from freak show to mainstream.
Hence The Disaster Artist, a film based on The Room co-star Greg Sestero’s account of how this fortuitous train wreck came to be. One megalomaniac calls for another, and so James Franco directs, produces, and stars as Wiseau. Franco has the accoutrements of Tommy down to a T – the gothic lilt of his American-Polish, the bizarrely carbonated chuckle, and so on. Though his preppy ruggedness never allows him to emulate Wiseau entirely, Franco makes for a convincing mimic of this most outlandish auteur.
The film opens on an acting class, in which Tommy, volunteering for a scene, proceeds to writhe on the floor, climb up the rafters, and scream ‘Stella’ (he should be rehearsing Waiting for Godot). One person is impressed – Dave Franco as Sestero, a fellow actor struggling with his timidity. Brotherly casting works particularly well here, as the Sestero-Wiseau partnership is what makes the story of The Room so surprisingly tender.
After moving to L.A. and scrounging for work gets them nowhere, Tommy decides to write his own film, with his best buddy Greg starring alongside him. This is where The Disaster Artist really gets going, each fresh instance of Wiseau’s onset zaniness beggaring belief. As script supervisor Sandy Schklair, Seth Rogen is a perfect audience surrogate, his bemusement and disbelief working at only one less remove from our own.
That is, unless you just see The Room instead. For beyond fleshing out the circumstances of its production, The Disaster Artist doesn't offer more than a (often admittedly hilarious) hagiography of the witless. Nevertheless, Franco deserves some credit for showing Tommy’s less palatable cluelessness – most notably his misogyny. Wiseau seems to hate women with a cartoon prejudice, and given current revelations about Hollywood practice, the scenes of him testing actors for The Room are uncomfortable to watch.
Initiates will still lap up The Disaster Artist as a film made by and for fans. How well it will play to those who don’t know their ‘Hai Doggie’ from their tuxedo football, though, is hard to say. This well crafted comedy about a legendary comedy of errors will give Tommy the exposure he always dreamed of – even if being spoonfed The Room is no substitute for the satisfaction of throwing such cutlery at the screen yourself.