Explore the weird, wild world of Wiseau in ‘The Disaster Artist’

Dave Franco as Greg Sestro and James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in 'The Disaster Artist'

Dave Franco as Greg Sestro and James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in ‘The Disaster Artist’

In many ways, Trashwire is a child of Tommy Wiseau. For years, I’d loved so-bad-it’s-good movies and cultivated them like some kind of bizarro world Criterion Collection. The “trash” in Trashwire was for those very movies. Then in 2005, one of my friends in college told me about The Room. It was the best bad movie of all time, according to him, and the story of its creation—and its creator—had become infamous among film geeks and industry insiders alike. My friend managed to get a DVD copy and we screened it at one of the meetings of our college film club. My most distinct memory of that night is sitting silently, mouth agape in amazement, as I watched director/procurer/writer/star Tommy Wiseau thrusting for what felt like a good 45 minutes in the first of many horrific sex scenes set to bad ‘90s R&B. This was, without question, the best bad movie in the history of cinema. It was so cringey and hilarious, a true accomplishment in how to do literally everything wrong and still become a legend for it.

Years later, the phenomenon of The Room continued to grow to the point where even regular folks who didn’t write their senior thesis on film theory got into it. Wiseau was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in the body of some sort of 18th Century vampire. For everyone who watched the movie, the prevailing question was always: how the hell did this thing ever get made? The stories surrounding the reportedly $6 million production were almost an urban legend. Did you know they shot this on both digital and film because Tommy didn’t realize there was a difference? Did you know he bought the cameras an equipment rather than renting it because he has some sort of endless bank account? Did you know that he insisted on all those shots of his ass during the sex scenes because he thought it would be a huge box office draw? Thankfully, The Room co-star and close friend of Wiseau Greg Sestro decided to shine a light on this now-mythical tale with his 2013 book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. Naturally, the book was a huge success and almost immediately sparked talk of a film adaptation.

And that brings us to today. James Franco produced, directed and stars as Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, a good movie about the making of a bad movie. Alongside his younger brother, Dave Franco playing Sestro, Franco seeks to give us a little glimpse into the completely insane world of Wiseau. And man, is it fascinating!

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau directs a scene from 'The Room' in 'The Disaster Artist' while script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen) looks on.

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau directs a scene from ‘The Room’ in ‘The Disaster Artist’ while script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen) looks on.

While the film doesn’t provide answers to many of the prevailing mysteries surrounding Wiseau—where is he originally from? How old is he? How did he make his millions?—it does take us on a journey from Sestro first meeting the eccentric filmmaker in an acting class to hatching the idea to make their own movie to the absolutely batshit production to the premiere night and initial audience reactions. You simultaneously feel for Tommy, knowing he’s a total outsider in the world at large due to his genuine strangeness, and want to smack him for being so stubborn and undeservedly arrogant all the time.

When Sestro and Wiseau arrive at the rental house to get equipment to film and insist on buying instead of renting, like most productions do, you see how easy it was for people to take advantage of this man with lots of money and not a lot of sense. But when Wiseau insists on shooting one of the alley scenes in an expensive set that looks just like the real alley outside the studio, much to the chagrin of script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen) and the rest of the crew, you see his desperation to be legit, coupled with stubbornness and bottomless funds that made the production a nightmare of epic proportions. In another moment, Wiseau overhears the crew’s disparaging remarks about him behind his back, but returns to the set to take it out on everyone, including poor Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor) who has the unenviable task of playing his love interest in one of many cringe-inducing sex scenes. You feel sorry for him, but you also see that he’s kind of an asshole, a difficult balance for a main character.

Franco deserves massive praise for hitting this tone in such a compelling way. The real Wiseau is such a bizarre character that it must have been nearly impossible to embody him without seeming like an over-the-top parody. The real testament to the performance is that, at some point, you just stop thinking about him as Franco and start thinking about him as Tommy—which is a major challenge when both the actor and the subject are so distinct and memorable. It’s extra surreal in a post-credits scene where the real Wiseau makes an appearance opposite Franco’s version. You can tell that Franco spent a lot of time with Wiseau and really got to know all his quirkiness, from his speech patterns to his fashion sense, which makes the performance almost unsettlingly realistic.

The best part of The Disaster Artist is tone. Yes, there are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny, but the balance of more introspective moments, coupled with a heavy dose of cringe when Wiseau and co. are shooting the infamous film, is quite unique. It’s not mean-spirited and never seeks to openly mock Wiseau. It shows him as an auteur, a visionary who followed his dream and executed his vision—even though his vision was utterly awful. Much like the source material, it’s something you immensely enjoy, even though you spend a good deal of it thinking, “Oh god! Those poor people that worked with the real Tommy on the real movie!” If you’ve ever crammed into a packed theater for a midnight screening with a bag full of plastic spoons, if you’ve ever greeted a passing dog with “hi, doggie”, if you’ve ever stopped in mid-rant to utter a quick “oh, hi, Mark” or proclaimed “you are tearing me apart, Lisa!” you absolutely must see The Disaster Artist.

Now I’m just curious as to what will happen this award season. If James Franco were to win an Academy Award for playing Wiseau, would he have Wiseau come give the speech? I suppose, if Trump can be president, Wiseau can accept an Academy Award. We are truly living in strange times, my friends.

Alexis Gentry

Alexis Gentry is the creator and editor of Trashwire.com. She has been called a “dynamic, talented and unique voice in pop culture” by Ben Lyons of E! and, with her strong fascination with entertainment and penchant for writing, it’s not hard to see why.

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