Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Directed by: James Franco
The Disaster Artist is a bromantic collaboration (James and Dave Franco), that tells the story of the tumultuous but unbreakable friendship that collaborated to tell the story of a powerful friendship that fell apart too easily. Put more simply it’s the story of the two men behind a film, The Room (2003), that’s described as the Citizen Kane of bad movies. It is based on a book of same name, by one of these two men (Greg Sestero). I do not regret opening this paragraph with that run-on sentence, however, as it is necessary to acknowledge The Disaster Artist’s truly inter-textual relationship with the movie it references. Just as The Room is an exploration of betrayal, The Disaster Artist is a celebration of loyalty.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) enters the story as an aspiring actor who is too awkward to succeed. James Franco’s Tommy Wiseau, is both Sestero’s opposite and equal: he is too melodramatic and different too succeed. Unlike Greg, Tommy inhabits his own planet. He is wealthy, appears to have no family connections and does what makes him happy. Tommy is a fascinating character, but what truly justifies The Disaster Artist, is that Greg’s everyman story is just as compelling Tommy’s.
Tommy’s story is shaped by a seeming obliviousness to what others expect of him: what is “normal behaviour.” Greg does not share this obliviousness, yet he is utterly infatuated with Tommy. Greg sees Tommy’s idiosyncrasy as a strength, perhaps something he can learn from. Because Tommy lives on his own “planet,” it is as if his defects don’t matter. Things work differently on planet Tommy, so when Greg grows sceptical about his chances on earth, he decides to become a part of Tommy’s world.
Of course, while ultimately about Greg, The Disaster Artist, would not be without Tommy Wiseau. While the script admits to knowing little about him, particularly Wiseau’s pre-room biography, it nonetheless sheds some light on his way of seeing the world, and helps us make sense of his approach to acting. We learn, for instance, that two of Wiseau’s biggest influences are Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. The Room is a relationship drama where little happens, but emotions run-high. It’s protagonist, Johnny, has brief, yet soliloquy-like out-busts. Even as Wiseau’s art does not ultimately resemble that his of his role models, it should nonetheless be recognized as the homage that it is.
Furthermore, The Disaster Artist is by no means a simple celebration of Wiseau. It shows his cold, authoritarian side, while exploring his internal struggle to be seen as a protagonist. This brutal honesty on the part of the film (via the brutal honesty of Greg Sestero’s book), however, ultimately feeds the film’s unique celebration of loyalty. Refusing to accept that his eccentricities can at times be harmful, Tommy repeatedly persuades Greg to stand by him by invoking their vow of loyalty, and emphasizing that the film is “our movie.” Greg’s navigation of Tommy’s flaws shows what loyalty has and doesn’t have to mean. The movie invites us to sit in the discomfort of realizing we can love and not stand someone or something at the same time. This message, of course, does not simply apply to Tommy and Greg, but to The Room itself. When people watch it religiously, calling it a movie that’s so bad it’s good, aren’t they really just saying it’s one of their favourite movies?