You know that movie you're almost embarrassed to love but find out others love it, too? Step aside Starship Troopers, here comes The Disaster Artist, the best movie about the worst movie ever made.
During the world premiere of The Disaster Artist at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness program, the audience had a grand old time riding a wave of laughter, in part because they were in on the joke. Most of the premiere attendees had seen (presumably several times) the 2003 cult classic The Room, which a film studies professor at St. Cloud University critiqued as "the Citizen Kane of bad movies." The Disaster Artist features some of the best performances of the year, perfectly capturing the making of The Room, which featured some of the worst performances of any year.
There are movie flops, there are cinematic bombs, and then there is The Room. Variety reported that during its Hollywood premiere on June 27, 2003, "most viewers asked for their money back before 30 minutes had passed." Following the premiere, critics' reviews of The Room included gems such as, "Watching this film is like getting stabbed in the head." Over the course of its two-week run, The Room had a total box office take of $1,800, a historic low. By the end of its run, one theater had to put up a sign in its box office that read, "NO REFUNDS." A legend was born.
The only contemporary filmmaker with the gall to resurrect the legend by turning its backstory into one of the most entertaining movies of 2017 is producer/director/star/Hollywood disruptor James Franco.
"Of any movie to have played in the history of Toronto's Midnight Madness, this is the fucking movie to be playing at Midnight Madness," said Franco prior to the TIFF premiere of The Disaster Artist.
Franco was right on a few levels. The Room found new life in midnight screenings across the world, inspiring fans to create versions of Mystery Science Theater 3000, snarking at horrendous dialogue and mind-numbing narrative flaws. Equally surprising, 39-year-old Franco hadn't seen The Room before reading bestselling non-fiction book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (Simon & Schuster, 2013), co-written by film co-star Greg Sestero, aka Mark.
More than 14 years after the premiere of The Room, the lights came up following the premiere of The Disaster Artist. This time, the audience jumped up and chanted "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy." The Room creator Tommy Wiseau came onstage and embraced Franco.
Wiseau was (and perhaps still is) the original disaster artist. With no previous filmmaking experience or skill whatsoever, he wrote, directed and starred in The Room. His acting is impossibly bad, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. To this day, no one knows who Wiseau truly is. He claims to be from New Orleans, yet his accent sounds like a mash-up of Eastern Europen and West Texan. He personally bankrolled The Room—the entire shooting budget of $6 million—and no one knows where his money came from.
Wiseau, sporting his signature long, stringy hairstyle and dark sunglasses, strode to the stage in Toronto and flashed a devilish grin. It wasn't clear if he thought the audience was laughing with him or at him.
"I like film 99.9 percent," said Wiseau, his fractured syntax confirming what the audience had just witnessed in Franco's portrayal: language is not Wiseau's strongest suit. "Can we not say film is 'fantastic?' Can we say film is 'super great?'" Wiseau asked before turning to Franco, who was wearing a devil-may-care smile of his own. "I direct you some day," Wiseau told Franco, who burst into a fit of laughter.
At least for now, Franco's dance card is full—along with starring in several TV shows and films, he's getting some of the best reviews of his career for The Disaster Artist: "Franco achieves what could become his most iconic role," wrote Peter Debruge for Variety. "The Disaster Artist is primarily a pedestal for the ultimate James Franco performance. It's his Lincoln," wrote David Edelstein for New York magazine.
While no one is comparing Franco to Daniel Day Lewis, Franco did take home the Best Actor prize at the Nov. 26 Gotham Awards, a precursor of awards season and a decent indication that he might get a nod from the Golden Globes or the Oscars in the coming weeks.
"I thought this movie was about making the best, worst movie ever made. But it's actually about every artist with a dream," said Franco, getting rather serious in his acceptance speech. "As Tommy said at the premiere of his film The Room, 'This my movie. This my life. Be cool.'"