For years I had heard stories about The Room, writer/director/actor (and I use those terms loosely) Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film that is so bad -- so full of terrible writing, amateur acting and bizarre production choices -- that it has been called the “Citizen Kane of awful movies.” Although it reportedly earned only $1,800 when it was released, it has enjoyed a cult following since, with Rocky Horror-like screenings at which audience members participate, screaming lines along with the soundtrack and throwing plastic spoons at the screen (ask me why if you’re curious).
I had still never seen that film, but read an article that the 2013 book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, written by co-star and friend of Wiseau Greg Cistero and journalist Tom Bissell, was a fascinating account of the making of the movie and of the friendship that developed between the young actor and the very strange filmmaker. So I ordered the paperback, and it is a good read: interesting, funny, unpredictable and surprisingly touching at times. Soon after starting the book, I was startled to hear a movie based on the book was in pre-production. Good timing, that.
The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco and starring himself as the mysterious Wiseau and brother Dave Franco as Cistero, is in theaters now and has already snatched up numerous festival awards. While it could have gone the straight parody route -- especially considering co-stars like Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Paul Scheer -- Franco largely sticks to the book. Cistero’s account of his relationship with Wiseau is mostly affectionate, tempered with confusion and frustration; Wiseau has that effect on people.
Franco is spot-on in his portrayal of Wiseau, whose long black hair and strange accent give him a vampiric quality. The supporting cast do their jobs well; as cast and crew during The Room’s production, they’re exasperated by Wiseau’s incompetence and outlandish choices, but like many in Hollywood, are just happy to be working. My one quibble, which sounds utterly insignificant but was a distraction the entire movie, was the hair and makeup job on Dave Franco, playing Cistero; he looks exactly like one of the puppets from Team America: World Police. Still, James Franco has given us a quality film about determination, perseverance and heart; like Tim Burton with Ed Wood, it’s a gleeful celebration of inability.