Among the funniest scenes in The Room is the very end. Tommy Wiseau as Johnny has lost everything—his fiancée and his best friend, and on his birthday. To use words like “scream” or “wail” or “moan” could not come close to approximating the sounds Wiseau makes in these moments as he writhes on the floor in pain and angry horniness, humping Lisa’s red dress he bought her in the movie’s opening scene. Like the rest of the film, nothing about anything makes human sense, but Wiseau is wrought, he is invested, he is spilling out all over the scene. What he is spilling is not anything any of us would want to drink, but it is impossible to look away even while the way we’re looking is in this dizzying combination of horror and confusion and gleeful laughter. And when he ultimately shoots himself in the head, it is capped by the entrance of his regretful friends, in agony at this great loss.
This scene sums up Wiseau’s entire film. While Wiseau is infamously secretive, he unleashes every bit of his inner self in his script and performance and directing choices. That self is mind-meltingly baffling, and definitely in possession of very real issues when it comes to women, but it is impossible to miss that Wiseau believes himself to be hurt by this world, that “everybody betray” him. That this movie is his weird heart on weird display, desperate for our love in return.
To watch The Disaster Artist will not provide much in the way of answers about Wiseau, keeping his origins much less shared or even speculated upon than the book upon which it is based. But while one could never come away knowing Tommy Wiseau, the movie performs the incredible task of making you understand this seemingly unintelligible person. And the very real feeling that no living actor could possibly have pulled it off but James Franco.
Franco as Tommy is hypnotic. Between his facial prostheses and stringy black wig, the resemblance is there, particularly when wearing sunglasses. But what Franco does is far more than just makeup and hair. There is a visible wall behind his eyes as Tommy keeps the world at arm’s length, even as he grips it refusing to let go, and that wall disappears in his most vulnerable moments—meekly apologizing when he knocks over the water glasses of Judd Apatow’s Hollywood producer, or dyeing his hair while his best friend, Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero, moves out of his apartment. Franco himself has cultivated a strange near-mythos in his career, and while their personalities and personas are wholly dissimilar, there is something Franco recognizes in Wiseau, something empathetic and real that truly comes across on screen.
The fact that The Disaster Artist is a true family-and-friends affair makes the intimacy and natural chemistry between all the performers palpable. The brothers Franco play well together, the younger alternating between a loving laugh of acceptance at all Wiseau puts out there, and the kind of trapped rage that can only come from being hurt by and angry at someone you love. Dave Franco’s few scenes with real-life wife Alison Brie have an equally natural sweetness, and the film-shoot within the film feels like a well-produced, well-acted version of friends making a movie at a sleepover, the kind of performances that only come from truly knowing, trusting and understanding each other, absolutely clicking in every moment.
As for the film within a film, the attention paid to recreating every little moment is exceptional, as evidenced by the pre-credit side-by-side views of the original versus the Disaster Artist versions. Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle as Lisa in particular deserves a standing ovation from every die-hard fan of The Room, and if you haven’t done a full look into the entire cast of the film, I won’t spoil it, but some of the other actors in The Disaster Artist’s “The Room” were delightful surprises (Chris R. and Peter the Psychologist were particularly inspired).
At the end of The Disaster Artist, the cast comes back together for a premiere in a packed house. And watching them watch the movie we’ve all laughed at for 14 years goes from hugely uncomfortable to heartbreaking as the camera finally settles on Franco’s face, tears welling in his be-contacted eyes as people laugh at Wiseau’s entire soul on the screen. But by the end, Franco’s Wiseau has embraced the laughter as love. Because despite how unrelentingly terrible The Room is, its bizarre heart is what has made it endure, has captivated all of us. Any movie can be bad—The Room, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, is bad from a place of sheer, raw love, a dream coming true in strange and perplexing ways not understood by normal human thought. And while Wiseau is no normal human, what we see in this film and its book are the kind of relatable “normal humans” we don’t want to admit or see. He’s secretive and cruel and childish and scared and wants so badly to be loved. He’s also ridiculous and optimistic and an unrelenting dreamer who does not grasp his limitations and therefore has none. He’s Tommy Wiseau. And Franco has done well by him.