The Room has been billed as the worst film of all time: a byword for ‘so bad it’s good’. With its hammy performances, confused narrative, and – erm – interesting moments of intimacy, responsibility lies with the father of the project: the impassioned and self-earnest Tommy Wiseau. In a sweet tribute to the modern classic, The Disaster Artist tells the story of the double-act that made it possible, played commendably by the Franco brothers.
Greg (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor held back by a shyness he can’t quite overcome. It’s not until he meets the strangely hypnotic Tommy, complete with slurred accent and mysterious aura, that he begins to follow his dreams of Hollywood fame. The pair move to LA, but, with little luck amongst the acting elite, they decide to make their own film with the seemingly bottomless pit of Wiseau funds. But tensions on set soon test the bromance to breaking point.
The love with which The Disaster Artist has been produced is transparent from the first frame. It flows in an uninterrupted stream of disarming charm for every moment of the runtime. James Franco morphs into the role of Tommy seamlessly, bringing a genuine pathos to a character one would initially presume had next to no depth. Dave Franco too captures the optimism that makes Greg similar to Tommy, and the pragmatism that eventually pushes them apart. Indeed, the impression is not one of two comedy actors reading bluntly from a prefabricated script, much like Dave Franco’s character before he meets his partner, but one of two boys re-enacting their favourite scene from a film they adore. And true to form, the film takes great pleasure in reconstructing the famous moments from The Room. The result is that it’s almost impossible not to be swept along by the absurdist humour of both the Tommy-Greg relationship, and the story as a whole. This reverence for The Room is only matched by the enthusiasm brought to this production by fellow fans, for which The Disaster Artist was self-evidently made. Most importantly though, if you’ve never seen The Room before, the film is funny, even when it comes to its key strength of drawing on The Room literate references.
Particularly impressive was the earnestness brought to a production which would seem only to be in it for the laughs. The relationship between Tommy and Greg feels genuine, and at moments the pressure of the film-set is palpably dramatic. Between the in-gags and the head-nods, a deeper meaning is achieved. And this is certainly to be applauded when it would have been so easy to avoid the straight-face entirely. Instead of lazily brushing over the bromance, or pigeon-holing Tommy into a purely comic role, the film ambitiously probes for the wider significance of character dynamics to produce a piece that’s rich with actual drama.
All this being said, the subject matter is necessarily limiting — there’s only so far you can embellish the true story — and so the bulk of the leg work in terms of narrative momentum must be done by this central relationship. Luckily, this is done convincingly and with immerse panache, but the reach for meta-themes are only served to a small extent by the plot which, after all, is just a story about making a film. The Disaster Artist is charming, not ground-breaking – but at least it’s aware of this, and sticks firmly to its cosy, fan-gratifying comfort zone. Seasoned Roomers won’t learn anything new, and new-comers won’t be blown away, but one flash of a Franco smile, and all is uncompromisingly forgiven.