For decades, the writer, director, producer and star of the ‘best worst film ever made’ has been a mystery. We still have no clue about his country of origin, his age, where his money come from, etc. But isn’t it the mystery around one’s origins and personality a necessary ingredient for exciting people’s curiosity and giving birth to wild theories around them? In the case of Tommy Wiseau in particular, his secretive and yet, absurdly eccentric persona rose to fame when it was channelled through his first ‘masterpiece’, The Room.
Watching The Disaster Artist you get the feeling that James Franco has a special connection with Wiseau’s persona and as clear a vision as the latter claimed to have while making his own film. Putting them side by side (end credits prove the adaptation has excelled in detail), it is evident that Franco has fully immersed into Wiseau’s existence and got out with more shades that we ever got from the man himself in interviews. Franco captures the bizarre, outwardly amalgam of accents, the occasional high-pitch finishing of words, the dizzy intonation and of course, the signature fake laughter.
The film succeeds to introduce the character in a scene shockingly funny, painfully embarrassing and also, strangely relatable that manages to connect you with this bizarre man. He is passionate and daring but instantly strikes us as a tragic clown as he is not aware of himself in relation to others and that is a guarantee for loneliness. And lonely he is, until he finds a true friend in Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), or ‘Babyface’(a la Tommy) and they begin the journey to stardom together.
The film immediately starts to explore the bond between the two, with a hopeful and honest bromance flourishing around their common aspirations. But what at first, looks like a hymn to unlikely friendship and an inspirational pursuit of a dream, soon becomes a tale haunted by jealousy, bursts of anger, and manipulative handling.
The film insinuates that beyond jealousy and fear of losing a companion, there’s a romantic infatuation that triggers Tommy’s despair when Greg slowly slips away. However, it is disappointing that it avoids taking a closer look and consequently, ends up raising questions around Tommy’s psyche and sexuality, and Greg’s inexhaustible tolerance.
Franco’s portrayal of Tommy is full of compassion and childish spontaneity that makes him a likeable caricature, funny but never entirely, as there’s great guilt in laughing at someone who is doing their best, however insufficient and ridiculous that might be. This is perhaps what makes the film uniquely entertaining, the duplicity of the source of our laughter, genuinely farcical scenes layered with the realisation that the person in question has no intention of being funny and thus, having is laugh at the tragedy of a man being trapped in his ridiculousness.
Franco allows us to peep into Tommy’s feelings and sense the vulnerability and the pain stemming from rejection. There are scenes where we get a glimpse of a more complex human being that escapes the caricature. These scenes include his ‘Shakespeare performance’ in the restaurant, the advice he gets from the acting teacher, the casting scene where he is trying to ‘lose the accent’, his confrontation with his film crew for their insults (captured by his behind-the-scenes cameraman/snitch), and his despair towards the audience’s reaction to his movie, amongst others.
In these, Franco’s face is heart-breaking as a slight emotional transparency is achieved, just enough to invoke empathy but quickly, flashes back the childness and stubborn persistence in ridiculousness of the man. To make matters worse, Tommy’s immature and absurd reactions to Greg’s success with women, and later on, to his first potential career break show us his unflattering side and are inconsistent to his generous and friendly nature, as presented at the beginning of the film.
Admittedly, Tommy’s angry attacks and violent disappointment is bearing the pressures of completing his project but also, the helplessness of his utter loneliness. According to Sestero who wrote the book adapted here by Franco, Wiseau felt that ‘no one was grateful’ for giving them a job or ‘respected his vision’ and perhaps, despite his constant, unreasonable denial of reality he might have had some doubts himself about his abilities and the quality of his brainchild.
In spite of the darkness and loneliness we mostly infer than actually see in the film, there is an ensemble of great supporting actors, with Seth Rogen giving voice to the audience, Jacki Weaver expressing love for the craft and bafflement over the script, Paul Scheer being discreetly funny, and many others.
After the film you might invite your friends over for a re-watch of The Room, greet everyone starting with “oh, hi…” and try at least once screaming “You’re tearing me apart…” a la Wiseau. You might be haunted for the rest of your days by Tommy’s stage imitation of Marlon Brando’s Streetcar Named Desire famous scene, be tempted to display some craziness in a public place and perhaps, remember when was the last time YOU took a chance and went after your dream, despite it being against the odds and everyone else’s opinion?