The Disaster Artist is able to succeed because the story is told from a place of respect, not one of mockery. It really cares about the subject matter.
In 1998, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class in San Francisco. This sparks a friendship between the two, which leads them to move to Los Angeles to become actors. When their dreams start to fall apart, Tommy decides to write a script, in which he and Greg would star.
This becomes The Room, which would later live in infamy as one of the worst movies ever, which Tommy mysteriously has the money to finance. As Tommy directs the project, he clashes with the cast and crew members (including Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Nathan Fielder, and Paul Scheer), and also endangers his friendship with Greg.
While The Disaster Artist includes the making of The Room, it is never truly about it. The central storyline is about Greg and Tommy’s friendship, and how it was affected by the making of The Room. This really gives the film a strong emotional core, providing depth where it could have been just mocking The Room.
The Disaster Artist never feels like it is making fun of Tommy Wiseau and The Room. Tommy’s eccentric personality allows him to be a comedic character, but he is never portrayed as cartoonish and over-the-top.
This mostly comes from James Franco’s performance. Doing double-duty as star and director, James Franco has a perfect grasp on the tone. While many of the scenes are comedic from the perspective of the audience, James Franco’s performance is actually more dramatic, trying to explain Wiseau’s perspective.
Unsurprisingly, brothers James and Dave Franco have fantastic chemistry. Greg and Tommy’s friendship is what carries the movie, and makes it feel unique. While Greg is the straight man to the eccentric Tommy, Dave Franco does not sacrifice any energy to let James Franco shine.
While everyone else in the cast is more on the sidelines, they all do a fantastic job. The rest of the cast tends to be the voice of reason against Tommy, and their constant struggle against Tommy is hilarious. The only problem with such a big and notable cast is that it sometimes is not clear whether or not an actor is playing oneself or not, but this does not really detract from the film.
The biggest question surrounding the film is whether or not it is accessible to people who have not seen The Room. It definitely can be enjoyed by anyone. Considering that the movie focuses more on Tommy and Greg’s friendship than on the making of The Room, the performances and story are more universal. Some of the humor is definitely lost without having seen The Room, but the majority of the humor comes from Tommy’s behavior on set, rather than from actual references to the movie.
The Disaster Artist sometimes cannot decide whether or not it wants to lean into the humor or the emotional center, but ultimately it is a fulfilling experience for any audience.