(Photo via Warner Bros.)
There’s always one screening every year at SXSW where the audience loses it and and falls in love with the film. Coincidentally (to my knowledge) a lot of them have been Seth Rogen films. This happened in 2014 at the Neighbors world premiere, in 2016 at the Sausage Party premiere, and this year with the world premiere of The Disaster Artist, which Rogen produces and co-stars in. The highly anticipated adaptation of Greg Sestero‘s book is directed by and stars James Franco, who plays Tommy Wiseau, the director behind The Room, one of the greatest midnight cult-classic “comedies” of all time. We’re big fans of The Room here at Movie Talk, so I was really looking forward to seeing this film at SXSW. The result is a film that serves as a love letter to The Room, Hollywood, and the dreamers that dream (except not quite as sentimental/good as La La Land was).
The film begins in 1998 when Greg (Dave Franco) is a struggling actor in San Francisco and meets the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in his class. A big, tall, muscular, long black-haired man with a mysterious accent, Tommy and Greg hit it off and the two decide to move to Los Angeles together. While they continue to struggle finding work out in LA as actors, Tommy hatches a plan to make his own movie with the unlimited money that he has. Together, Tommy and Greg embark on making The Room, a movie so poorly made that it’s brilliant.
Franco directs a script adaptation by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who are best known for writing the screenplays to (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now. The Disaster Artist could’ve easily been a movie that just makes fun of Tommy Wiseau and his eccentricities, but the film ends up being a heartfelt and loving look at the misunderstood filmmaker and his masterpiece. I’ve been hearing a lot of comparisons to Ed Wood ever since reviews starting popping up of the film, and that sounds like an accurate comparison to this film. Tim Burton‘s love letter to the misunderstood B-picture director and Wiseau’s story are very similar, and the heart of it all is there.
Franco gives one of his very best performances as Wiseau. His performance could’ve easily come off as gimmicky or parody, but Franco gives a nuanced and heartfelt performance as this misunderstood artist. Franco captures everything from his look to his walk and to his bizarre eastern-European(?) accent. I kept hearing potential Oscar talk for his performance, but that might be a little too soon for this performance. But this is remarkable work from Franco.
The film features several of Franco and Rogen’s friends, including Rogen himself as a script supervisor on The Room. Ari Graynor plays the actress who played Lisa, Zac Efron plays the actor who played Chris R., Josh Hutcherson plays Denny, etc. There’s a lot of really fun appearances that I don’t want to give away, but you’ll be laughing pretty frequently at all these funny people that are in this film. But at the heart of the film, this is a story about the friendship between Wiseau and Sestero, and how that very friendship gets tested during the making of The Room. That’s where the heart of this film lies, and this film has a pretty big heart.
There are definitely some problems with the film. As good as Franco is, it does take you a while to get use to this performance and the way that Wiseau speaks that folks not familiar with the movie might be baffled by. But judging by the premiere, people really loved this movie. The Disaster Artist is not only a feel-good movie on the magic of Hollywood and filmmaking, but it’s also really funny at the same time. I’d be shocked if The Disaster Artist doesn’t have a set release date by the time the festival is over, because the reception for this film was insane. It’ll be interesting to see if people will respond to this film the way these hardcore Room fans did, but we’ll have to wait and see.