Watching The Room is an indescribable experience, like you’re witnessing an alien come to Earth and deliver their treatise on what they think human interaction is. You’re witnessing something so far removed from reality it’s almost unsettling. Somebody asked me the other day what the plot of The Room was, what was it about? I didn’t have an answer for them, I just told them they’d have to see it for themselves. What you’re witnessing, is something unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. The Room has gone down as one of the great cult films of all time, enshrouded in a mystery surrounding the creator, Tommy Wiseau. Where is he from? How old is he? Where did he get the money for all this? Basically, you’re just asking yourself, how in the hell did they make this? That’s where The Disaster Artist comes in.
Young struggling actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is struggling to find his way when he meets the enigmatic and mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and they become close friends. After striking out in LA together, Tommy writes The Room for them to make themselves. Thus begins the legend.
James Franco plays Wiseau perhaps the only way you could – as an imitation. Calling his performance an imitation is not a knock here, it’s praise. You’re never sure how much of Tommy as a person is performance – he might be evidence of lizard people – and Franco is prescient of that aspect in how he plays Tommy. He nails his accent and mannerisms, you can tell he spent time with this guy and probably watched The Room 100 times. The makeup work on him is excellent, slightly altering his facial features to match Tommy more. You never feel like you’re watching James Franco act in prosthetics, you’re just watching him as Tommy. But above all, he makes Tommy human, something not even Tommy himself could do. There are little moments in the interactions with Greg that Franco subtly uses to let his humanity creep through. It’s a truly magnificent performance from Franco, because he’s not afraid to embrace the perpetually heightened reality of Tommy Wiseau and just run with it.
Dave Franco gives perhaps his best performance to date as Greg. The fact that he is brothers with James really works here, it enforces the unbreakable bond of brotherhood that Greg and Tommy share. The brothers have an affectionate chemistry and shorthand with each other that enhances the relationship between Greg and Tommy. You really understand why Greg loves Tommy and why he’s possibly the only person that could put up with him. They really nail the casting in this film, filling each role of The Room with perfect comedic counterparts. James Franco rounds up a talented cast of friends, calling in favors to practically everyone he’s worked with in Seth Rogen, Nathan Fielder, Ari Graynor, Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, Josh Hutcherson, Judd Apatow, Hannibal Buress and Bob Odenkirk among others. Each of them, some only for a few moments, brings joy and laughter to their scene as they struggle to comprehend Tommy.
Brandon Trost, one of the most underrated cinematographers working, delivers more stellar work here. He painstakingly recreates the look of The Room, down to the overblown lighting and cheap soap opera haze of it. The recreation of these scenes are impeccable, and while the actors deserve a lot of credit, he makes each shot mimic the original astoundingly, right down to each shadow and light. He makes the production scenes of The Room feel like behind the scenes footage with unbroken takes and docu-drama handheld camera work.
The Disaster Artist is no doubt hilarious, my friends and I were laughing hard scene to scene, but it also just has a ton of heart underneath it all. Franco knows how to make the emotional moments stand apart from the laughs, he understands a story as ridiculous and absurd as this doesn’t work without a grounded sense of emotion for the audience to latch onto. The Disaster Artist is an ode to friendship and the creative endeavor of filmmaking. It’s a truly inspiring work that makes you want to get your friends together and make something of your own and live and die on your art.