There was a palpable air of anticipation coming from many directions at once at the Paramount Theatre’s 2017 SXSW Film Festival screening of The Disaster Artist. James Franco had written, directed and starred in the adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book of the same name about the bizarre story behind the hilarious accidental midnight sensation The Room. Franco was there alongside producer and co-star Seth Rogen and Franco’s brother Dave, who plays The Room co-star Sestero.
But there was another celebrity unique to the setting — a sunglasses-clad Tommy Wiseau, the mysterious modern-day Ed Wood who wrote and directed what has been called “the worst movie of all time,” and whom The Room has since turned into a cult sensation. After The Disaster Artist — in which James Franco plays Wiseau with a remarkable penchant for the peculiar auteur’s ambiguous European accent — a straight-faced Wiseau joined the cast and crew onstage, and the roar of approval was worthy of a rock concert.
Despite all that enthusiasm, however, the movie’s future was uncertain beyond that night. Franco had been quietly building out his résumé as a filmmaker for years with more experimental efforts, but The Disaster Artist marked his most accessible movie to date, and Warner Bros. division New Line had plans to distribute it. However, as the premiere date loomed, it became clear that the idiosyncratic story required a careful marketing plan that tapped into the existing fandom for The Room, and a big studio seemed ill-equipped to do that. So The Disaster Artist quietly went on the market at SXSW, and buyers swarmed the Paramount alongside fans to see what was billed as a “Work-in-Progress.” Eventually, The Disaster Artist landed with A24, which slotted the movie in a prime December release spot.
A holiday season opening may have been the best fate it could ask for. The Disaster Artist is the ultimate feel-good movie about bad art, one that liberates Wiseau’s campy accomplishment from the insular world of late-night rituals to celebrate his commitment to realizing his vision against impossible odds.