Every so often, a modern film comes along to celebrate genres that are all-but-extinct. The upcoming Star Wars is a throwback to space adventure serials from the 1930s, and last year’s La La Land paid homage to big Hollywood musicals we never see anymore. Although I won’t lose any sleep if musicals don’t find a new stronghold in cinema, it breaks my heart that we’ll probably never see another film that gains a cult following because it’s so terrible that, somehow, it’s actually great. These days, whole studios exist solely to cash-in on cult filmgoers always looking for the next “so bad, it’s good” gem. The Sharknado franchise and other ironically produced films have pretty much ensured we will never again see an earnest cult masterpiece, such as The Room.
James Franco’s The Disaster Artist—watching it really does feel like you’re mainlining pure, black tar Franco—dramatizes goings-on behind the scenes of Tommy Wiseau’s cult film The Room, which is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made but is beloved nonetheless. Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, the enigmatic director/writer/producer/star/whatever else of The Room. Little is known about Wiseau. He’s never confirmed his age, country of origin, or how he managed to secure the $6-million it took to produce a film that looks like it cost about $20. Wiseau used to say he prospered flipping real estate before he pivoted to claiming he sold Korean coats. Even more scandalous is a revelation in The Disaster Artist that Wiseau must have engineered Franco in a lab some years ago because he was born to play Wiseau.
With the exception of Dave Franco (as Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s co-star in The Room), who delivers his best performance yet, which is still painful at times, the cast is all-around great. Still, the better Franco’s performance is the film. He essentially starts with a spot-on impersonation of Wiseau’s character in The Room but, soon enough, creates something oddly majestic. Of course, I could have done without the constant reaction shots of The Room crew members WTF-ing whenever Wiseau took 67 takes to spit out the lines he wrote or decided to build sets whenever identical locations existed just yards away. The film should have trusted Franco to be enough. He’s the heart of the film, and so much of the reason why is because Franco turns Wiseau into a hilarious character without outright mocking him.
The Disaster Artist isn’t just in love with The Room: It actually respects The Room, and the estimated 400 crew members who tried the best they could but made one of the worst films ever. It’s easy to call The Disaster Artist one of the year’s best films; an even better compliment is that The Disaster Artist made me appreciate my favorite “it’s so bad, it’s good” film that much more. The Visitor (1979, aka Stridulum) is about space Jesus’ fight against a psychic little girl, and I’ve seen it a dozen times. Unlike Sharknado, it wasn’t made tongue-in-cheek. It was made by people who truly cared about Space Jesus. Sadly, we won’t see many more cult films of the same caliber as The Visitor or The Room. But at least we have a film as good as The Disaster Artist to pay our respects.
Grade = A