The Disaster Artist is difficult to parse. The movie is about a movie that is based on a book, and each level of that matryoshka doll comes with its own set of questions as to authorial intent – both in terms of how we are meant to feel as an audience and how much we cannot accept from an artist for the sake of art.
Since the premiere in 2013, The Room has become a beloved cult movie, it became such a phenomenon that one of its stars, Greg Sestero, co-wrote The Disaster Artist: a book detailing his experience in making the movie as well as his friendship with Tommy Wiseau, the director, writer, producer and star of the film. To give you an idea of how strange things become, at one point Sestero compares Wiseau to the title character in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
The Disaster Artist – which was adapted from Sestero's book – portrays the friendship between Sestero and Wiseau and the ups and downs, but rather than taking the shape of a thriller, their story is a heartwarming comedy and a tale of triumph. There is one end to which this works: The Disaster Artist has a distinct humanizing effect for Wiseau, who, like his movie, is a simultaneous object of cultural fascination and mockery.
Wiseau is a character, but there is still something discomforting about the whole cult of personality that's sprung up around him. As a culture, we've finally recognized that “So where are you really from?” is a question that’s potentially offensive, so why do we still feel so comfortable asking the question when it is in reference to Tommy Wiseau?
It is a question that goes hand in hand with examining the popular reaction to The Room, which is to ridicule it. There is some humour, but the fact that it is widely thought to be somewhat autobiographical lends a similar surrealism to how ready we are to make fun of it. The Room tells the story of Johnny, played by Wiseau, whose professional ambitions are stymied and whose girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend. Ultimately he commits suicide, which is not the plot that is inherently comedic at all, and even though the midnight-movie tradition that's sprung up around the movie is not malicious in intent, it is strange being in a theatre full of people goading Johnny to kill himself.
James Franco, who directed The Disaster Artist, stars as Wiseau and does not seem to intend for his portrayal to be a parody or a joke, but this will likely take a while to sink in for any audience trained to laugh at anything delivered in a Wiseau-like accent. The movie is perhaps too kind in smoothing over the rough patches of Wiseau's behaviour in order to present the sweeter, more palatable story.
The Disaster Artist is, in essence, a love letter to its subjects.