“Don’t be weird.”
That’s the admonishment that Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) gives Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) at one of their earliest meetings — a meet-up at a San Francisco restaurant to discuss partnering for a scene in their shared acting class — in The Disaster Artist. Wiseau then cajoles Sestero into performing the scene in the middle of the restaurant, utilizing the “acting louder is acting better” approach to the craft. The patrons of the restaurant deliver a confused smattering of applause at the end, but Sestero barely notices. He’s already fallen for Wiseau’s unique brand of charismatic no-fucks-given approach to life. What’s “weird” to Wiseau isn’t yelling Tennessee Williams lines in the middle of a restaurant; it’s holding back because you’re worried what other people might think of you.
It’s a mindset that garnered Wiseau millions of — well, “admirers” might not be the right word, but certainly “fans” — in the wake of The Room, a 2003 feature that Wiseau wrote, directed, starred in and financed that has gone on to become a cult hit based on its sheer, earnest incompetence. The Disaster Artist, thankfully, is far from incompetent, even as it revels in the stranger-than-fiction story behind the making of The Room. Don’t expect much new information to come to light if you’ve already read Sestero’s book on which the film was based, though; despite a bravura performance from James Franco, Wiseau remains as inscrutable as ever.
The film is framed around the friendship between Sestero and Wiseau. After meeting in acting class, they develop a friendship that leads them both to move to Los Angeles to pursue the Hollywood dream. After finding out that Wiseau already has an apartment in LA, Sestero asks him why he’s never tried his hand at acting professionally before. Wiseau answers, “I’ve never had a friend to do it with before.” The pair of aspiring actors find little success, and end up deciding to make their own movie with Wiseau’s considerable fortune. Meanwhile, their friendship turns dark when Wiseau begins to get jealous of Sestero’s new girlfriend, Amber, played by an underused Alison Brie.
Fans of the The Room will find plenty to enjoy in The Disaster Artist, from how Wiseau and Sestero’s rooftop lamentations about their acting careers are echoed by their characters’ chats in The Room to the inspiration for the classic line, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”
But despite assurances from James Franco on the talk show circuit, it’s unlikely that those who aren’t already in love with The Room are going to fall for The Disaster Artist. The comedic moments — of which there are many, and they all land — are mostly predicated on the assumption that the audience has at least some familiarity with the source. For the uninitiated, a brief trip through YouTube for a primer on The Room’s best worst moments should catch you up enough to enjoy The Disaster Artist.
At its heart, The Disaster Artist is a film by and for fans of The Room. It’s a testament to the enduring cult that springs up around so-bad-they’re-good films and filmmakers. But as a passion project about a cult classic, The Disaster Artist intrinsically limits itself. After watching The Disaster Artist, you’re more likely to want to go home and dust off your old DVD of The Room than watch Franco’s imitation of it, no matter how lovingly it’s made. In that sense, at least, it’s far better to go ahead and be weird.