An Affectionate Salute to One of Hollywood's Stranger Stories

There’s a lot of bad movies out there. Most simply get consigned to the scrapheap of history, destined to be no more than an obscure pub quiz answer, languishing unnoticed at the bottom of Netflix’s ‘What to Watch’ page. It takes something extra for a movie to not just be bad, but so bad that it’s good – so irredeemably awful, in fact, that it becomes a cult favourite, playing to packed-out midnight screenings and being remembered more vividly than many critical favourites of its time.

The Room is just such a movie. Now, 14 years after its release, The Disaster Artist aims to peel back the lid on how such a wonderfully terrible movie came into existence.

James Franco both directs and stars as Tommy Wiseau, The Room’s writer, director, producer and lead actor. Wiseau, with his eerie appearance and alien mannerisms, proves that reality is often stranger than fiction. We don’t know who he is, where he comes from (despite his Eastern European twang, he insists he’s from the Bayou), nor how he came by the millions he poured into his passion project. Franco embodies this enigma perfectly – he nails Wiseau’s tics, but never loses sight of the human. Wiseau might be off-the-wall bananas, but with Franco he’s ambitious, needy and insecure too.

Franco is something of a kooky, intense creative himself, known for churning out multiple movies a year of varying quality. As well as being one of his most memorable performances, however, The Disaster Artist is also his most assured directorial outing. He’s helped along in this by an expertly constructed script from 500 Days of Summer’s Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber.

Franco and his team mine the laughs in every scene

They cleverly make the story a double act, introducing us to Wiseau via Greg, a sincere if aimless aspiring actor played by Franco’s real-life brother, Dave. The younger Franco gives the audience a reference point of normality, which goes a long way towards grounding the movie. While everybody else at his acting class is repulsed by Wiseau’s weirdness, Greg is captivated by his sheer confidence. They whizz off to L.A. together, Greg just about managing to overlook Wiseau’s eccentricities for the sake of honouring their pledge to always support each other and never give up.

Still, if moving house and getting divorced are supposedly the two most stressful things a person can experience in life, you sense that making a movie must be a close third. From the moment The Room’s script lands before him – cryptic, self-indulgent, unintentionally hilarious – Greg finds his career and sanity tested. Whether Wiseau is taking 80 attempts at a single line, verbally abusing his cast (because that’s what Hitchcock did), or strutting around set in no more than a cock sock, the backstage shenanigans are every Hollywood exec’s nightmares magnified.

Franco and his team mine the laughs in every scene, but they steer clear of making Wiseau the butt of the joke. Although it’s miles away from La La Land tonally, the film taps into similar ideas: the fear of failure, the desperation to not be among the hundreds chewed up and spat out by showbusiness. For all its wackiness,The Disaster Artist contains a huge amount of affection for its characters, all of whom have negligible amounts of talent, but who never let that stop them. It salutes Wiseau and co. as much as it pokes fun at them, and that’s what makes this rendering of one of Hollywood’s strangest stories really zing.

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About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

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