Movies about filmmaking often feel like the most heartfelt and passionate works of art in all of cinema. Any filmmaker will tell you that getting even one movie made is a miracle in and of itself, and it’s even more rare that the film turns out exactly as it was intended, and even more rare when the audience will see your artistic vision and point of view. It is my belief that a filmmaker leaves just a little bit of their souls in each of their movies, making their identity and beliefs as ingrained in the final product as the screenplay and cinematography. This is why I absolutely adore movies about movies.
The classic examples that come to mind for these types of films are “Sunset Boulevard” and “Ed Wood,” which each show the struggles of filmmaking and how all that pain and suffering is worth it to see your picture up on that silver screen. “The Bad and the Beautiful” takes it in a slightly different direction by showing one man’s life in film through different perspectives and can be just as charming and poignant as “Sunset Boulevard.” But the newest film that can be added to this small genre is James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” our generation’s “Ed Wood.”
I would say that “The Disaster Artist” benefits from knowing at least a little bit about the person it is based on, Tommy Wiseau, or seeing the cult classic Wiseau created, “The Room,” but honestly this film fills you in on everything and can be enjoyed whether you’ve watched “The Room” a hundred times or have never even heard of it. I will say that, given my knowledge on the history of Tommy Wiseau and “The Room,” I can say that just about every crazy, bizarre, and head-tilting thing Franco does as Tommy is true – He really does act in a way that can only be described as a “unique art form.”
Based on a true story, the film follows a young Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), an inexperienced actor who dreams of becoming the next James Dean. While he attends some acting classes in San Francisco, Greg eventually meets up with the absurd yet passionate Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the two form a tight friendship. When Greg reveals his dreams of becoming a big actor in Hollywood, Tommy reveals that he has a nice apartment in Los Angeles and suggests that the two of them move to Hollywood to follow their dreams, even if everyone else in Greg’s life can sense that Tommy’s acting is abysmal except Greg.
I will say right now that I’ve seen “The Room” about three times and know that the movie is an extension of Tommy Wiseau’s personality. He wrote it, produced it, directed it, and is the leading actor. If a filmmaker normally leaves a small piece of their soul in a movie, Tommy put his entire soul into “The Room,” leaving us with a movie with is overflowing with passion and energy, but has no sense of talent. “The Room” is one of the best “so bad, it’s good” movies ever made that I honestly can’t help but admire it because Tommy put everything he had into it. Even if he turned out a laughably bad product, his heart and soul is all over both “The Room” and “The Disaster Artist.”
Like “Ed Wood,” this movie paints a picture of its main character in loving and passionate detail, giving us both the good and the bad and not painting in any broad strokes. We see Tommy as he truly is, not as just an artist or a terrible filmmaker, but as a man from an undisclosed country, of undeterminable age, and with god-knows how much money. The film offers up the history of the beloved Tommy Wiseau and lets the audience decide if this is a good man, like he believes he is, or a villain like everyone else in the film believes Tommy is.
One of the best parts of “The Disaster Artist” is James Franco’s performance as Wiseau. Everyone I hang out with has their own Tommy Wiseau impression, because he is easily inimitable, so I applaud James Franco for portraying this enigma of a man without coming off as just another impression. Franco nails the mannerisms, speech, and child-like behavior that makes this man one of the most bizarre people I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. When I was watching this movie, it did not feel like I was seeing James Franco trying to be Tommy Wiseau, it felt like Tommy was really in front of me.
But ultimately, the driving force of “The Disaster Artist” is that same passion for filmmaking that Tommy Wiseau has, but directed in a way that makes you appreciate how strange and chaotic Hollywood can be, especially around the man that gave us “The Room.” Little moments like an elderly woman telling Greg why she chooses to act at her age, or the love and admiration Greg has for James Dean, come across as loving and honest, which compliments the many scenes of Tommy’s bumbling and terrible behavior. The final scenes during the first screening and the end credits showing the loving recreations of “The Room” are some of the most powerful and memorable sequences in recent years – funny, strange, heartwarming, and full of energy. Scenes like these are why we go to the movies in the first place.
Overall, “The Disaster Artist” takes the unbelievable story of Tommy Wiseau and tells it in a way that would make the man himself proud. The film never feels like it is winking at the audience, but instead shares that same desire to create something unique that Tommy has. I loved this film and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys going to the movies. Even if you’ve never seen “The Room,” this film will make you appreciate the art form just a little bit more.
Final Grade: A