The Disaster Artist is a good movie about a bad movie—said bad movie is the real-life, stranger-than-fiction film The Room—and it chronicles the making of writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum opus through the eyes of his best friend and collaborator, Greg Sestero.
While the farcical behind-the-scenes antics of The Room are enough to make this a delightful comedy of errors, and the filmmakers add context at the beginning and end for neophytes, viewers should probably see The Room at least once before watching The Disaster Artist. First, “the greatest bad film ever made” must be seen to believe the depths of its awfulness. In addition, some of The Disaster Artist’s best comedy bits are the subtle references and visual cues regarding how Wiseau (played here by James Franco) and Sestero (Dave Franco) got the ideas for iconic moments in The Room, which only those familiar with the significance of spoons and footballs will appreciate.
Frankly, The Disaster Artist is such a painstakingly accurate recreation of the events and people involved that it can only really be appreciated in comparison to the original. In fact, The Disaster Artist seems aware of this itself. At the end, the film includes side-by-side contrasts of the original shots and Artist’s reenactments, which are truly striking in their loving attention to detail, from the mismatched costuming to the bad camera angles to the stiff line readings. Because of this reverence, no role in the movie is a throwaway part. Every member of The Room’s cast and crew in Artist is portrayed by a notable actor or comedian who nails his or her contribution to the abysmal final product, with Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson proving surprising standouts during their brief scenes.
The rest of the cast excel at playing it straight and making incredulous reaction faces while watching James Franco let loose as Wiseau. Franco is the funniest he’s been in years here, delivering his ludicrous lines to maximum comedic effect without becoming a caricature. The elder Franco brother’s nuanced performance transcends cheap impression and becomes a form of embodiment; on top of nailing Wiseau’s baffling accent and cadence, Franco contorts his body to mimic Wiseau’s awkward way of moving, which does as much as the dialogue to communicate how the aspiring actor is literally out of step with the rest of the world.
Franco, who also directed the film, is the perfect choice to play Wiseau, as the pair are eccentric, multihyphenate kindred spirits whose ambitious art is often an…acquired taste. Even under prosthetics, Franco can still convey enough charm and earnestness with a crooked, kilowatt smile that Wiseau remains endearing to Sestero and the audience despite his more unsavory antics. Without that grin, Franco’s half-lidded looks would seem sinister, betraying Wiseau’s paranoia and selfishness.
Knowing the real-life fate of The Room and Wiseau and Sestero’s friendship beforehand somewhat softens the blows of Wiseau’s misogyny and his abuse of his friends and co-workers, keeping him from becoming the full-blown villain that he so fears. Instead, most of his sins are forgiven and his overall image is that of a peculiar phoenix rising from the ashes of epic failure. In The Disaster Artist, he comes across as the legendary folk hero he’s since become to superfans in real life—a man who decided to build his own house (and alley) when he couldn’t get a foot in the door. As Hollywood continues to come under fire for being an exclusive, elitist club, an unconventional, enigmatic immigrant who befriends an All-American guy and makes his own way because rather than in spite of his differences and shortcomings is a hero more and more fans will want to celebrate.