If one were to make a Venn diagram for a studio head demonstrating whom, exactly, The Disaster Artist is supposed to appeal to amongst the general population, I imagine the overlap in the middle would be quite small. It's a movie about a cult film, The Room, best known for being horrible. It's made by James Franco, whose distinctive comedic sensibility is not without its detractors. I imagine that 99 percent of the population will be either confused by some part of this précis or actively annoyed.
But this is the One Percent of which I am firmly and proudly a member; as such, I quite enjoyed The Disaster Artist and hope you will as well.
Watching Franco's film—he stars and directs—is like watching a meme come to life. Denizens of the internet will likely be familiar with some of The Room‘s famous "gags" (non sequiturs captured in gif form like the line "Oh hi Mark" or snippets of street football played by tuxedo-clad goons) even if they've never seen the film (which revolves around an impossible-to-describe plot and features amateurish production values; it's a failure on virtually every level). And that's because The Room has permeated a certain segment of irony culture, that weird substrata of society that finds joy in loving that which we are meant to hate.
The Disaster Artist opens with a bunch of Hollywood swells (J.J. Abrams, Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, etc.) discussing how they first heard of The Room, which was four-walled by director Tommy Wiseau and advertised on a billboard in Los Angeles before achieving cult status around the nation. We then begin our story, about a group of nobodies coming together to make great art.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a model in San Francisco who wants to become an actor, despite the fact that he has no discernible talent. Stuttering and shy, his performance of Waiting for Godot underwhelms the rest of his acting class and exasperates his teacher. One wonders which is worse: the bored eye rolls earned by Sestero or the stifled giggles that Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) receives when he goes next, throwing himself about the mock stage as he screams "STELLLLLLLA," a bad parody of Marlon Brando brought to life.
For those who love The Room, it's no competition: stifled giggles win out every time. Tommy, sporting an odd Eastern European accent and long, stringy, jet-black hair, inspires Greg to chase his dreams, to abandon his fears and anxieties and move to Los Angeles. The two live in an apartment owned by Wiseau, whose bank account appears bottomless. Frustration mounts as neither is able to pick up any acting work until, just as Greg seems ready to give up altogether, Tommy decides on a course of action that will forever change the history of cinema: why don't they make their own movie?
The Disaster Artist hits all the beats of a sports movie: our heroes are notable underdogs; we get the equivalent of training montages as they go around town trying to get gigs, followed by scenes of struggle and professional heartbreak; and the whole thing caps off with a come-from-behind victory in the closing seconds to send audiences away happy.
Perhaps adopting that well-known formula in this unfamiliar setting will be enough to make The Disaster Artist a hit with general audiences. However, I remain somewhat skeptical that it will work for those who have never seen The Room, for those who have never experienced Wiseau's stilted cadences, and for those who haven't spent years wondering about Wiseau's mysterious past and source of income. Speaking of Wiseau, James Franco does great work approximating his style—he doesn't quite mumble, but his enunciation stresses the wrong syllables and he talks as if he's peppered random commas into otherwise coherent sentences. Franco's performance perfectly captures the essence of Wiseau's magnetic weirdness.
It's difficult for Francos et al to capture the true amateurishness of The Room in part because … well, they're just not amateurs. You see this most clearly in the film's closing moments, when shots from The Room recreated by Franco play next to the original cut of the film: the Hollywood actors, paradoxically, are confidently inept in a way the originals weren't.
And perhaps it's gauche to point this out, but the actors in The Disaster Artist are simply more attractive than the actors in The Room. Even the actors who aren't well known for being beauties look like 60 watt bulbs next to their dimmer, 30 watt doppelgangers. It's easy to forget that the baseline attractiveness of Hollywood is so ridiculously high when you spend all day watching TV shows and movies, but The Disaster Artist throws this into sharp relief: if you don't look just right in real life, you'll look totally wrong on the big screen.
The Disaster Artist, then, is a good movie about a terrible movie starring people who look good while trying to look terrible. It's hilarious and moving and just a little bit sad. You'll love it or you'll be baffled by it, but either way you should have a pretty good time in the theater.