The Room, the 2003 drama written, directed by and starring Tommy Wiseau is some of the most personal filmmaking you’re ever going to see anywhere. Wiseau rips inside himself, examines himself and puts it out there for the whole world to see, in all its passion, all its glory and all its ugliness and pain. The problem is that the movie is infamously terrible. Not just terrible… one of the all-time worst movies ever made. It’s not merely bad, it’s hilarious in its awfulness. It’s so bad that it attracted a cult audience that still, to this day, attends midnight screenings of the film in order to cackle wildly with laughter, interact with the film, throw plastic spoons at the screen and delight in the unintentional brilliance of it.
The Disaster Artist, based on the book of the same name by The Room co-star Greg Sestero, chronicles the making of that film. It also chronicles the nearly 20-year-long friendship between the mysteriously-accented and ambiguously-aged Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and the events that led to the creation of The Room.
Greg is a struggling actor who is too shy. Tommy, on the other hand, is not shy at all. His performance in their acting class recreating a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, in which he writhes about the stage, climbs props, screams wildly, and does everything but actually recite dialogue, inspires Greg to seek this guy out and learn more. A friendship is forged almost immediately and they move to Los Angeles together where they both sort of struggle without any real payoff in their careers until the idea strikes to make their own movie. And they do. And the rest is, as they say… history.
Tommy’s monster-sized ego clashes with everyone else on the set of The Room, and his complete incompetence strings the film out over-budget, over-schedule and with the cast and crew absolutely resenting him. He’s tough on his actors even though he himself required something like 57 takes in order to say maybe four lines in total for the rooftop scene, “I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! Oh, hi, Mark.” And he skimps out on basic things like water and air conditioning, leading to a set so hot that people are literally fainting from heat stroke.
In the events leading up to the film’s production, everyone tells Tommy he’s never going to make it, that the odds just aren’t on his side, but somehow, despite all the odds, his terrible picture ends up finding an audience. It’s a success story not unlike the film Ed Wood.
The Disaster Artist is a decent-enough picture with a positive message about never giving up on your dreams and contains maybe three absolutely pitch-perfect scenes, but unfortunately is rife with a lot of problems. Namely, the casting of Dave Franco as Greg Sestero. It’s a distracting move that simply doesn’t work. I like Dave Franco. I just don’t think he’s right for the role. He plays Greg as a stuttering, naive simpleton in complete awe of Tommy. The scene where he reads the script for the first time and thinks he’s going to be in something great, for example. I don’t believe anyone would have read the script and would have believed it to have been any good. I understand the film took some creative license with their relationship, but I don’t understand what purpose it served to make Greg a dumbass. In real life, Greg was a reluctant member of the cast who, from the beginning, knew that it was going to be terrible, but was doing a favor for his very weird friend who had done him a lot of favors.
The Room is an honest, if terrible, film about pain. The Disaster Artist, though, is something of an insincere circle jerk of celebrity cameos, like a feature-length SNL skit. Oh, hey! It’s Hannibal Buress! And June Diane Raphael to deliver exactly two lines! And Judd Apatow chewing scenery and overacting! And Bryan Cranston, for some reason, in a wholly-invented scene to create conflict between Tommy and Greg, where it feels unnatural and unnecessary!
The movie seemed to have a hard time with creating conflict and relied on cliches instead of the real-life story. I hate to be the person to be like, “But the book!” but I’m going to be that person because the book is a fascinating look into the creative process of a madman. The conflict between Greg and Tommy is omnipresent because of jealousy of success. These added scenes to the film don’t add much except for additional opportunities to shoe-horn in James and Dave Franco’s friends.
If you’re looking for a movie to see, you could do a lot worse than The Disaster Artist. It’s a sweet, well-made film that has more than enough laugh-out-loud moments. It’s just that it has some problems and in the end it doesn’t rise above much more than “average.” It’s a competent, average film that could have been great. The problem, I suspect, lies with James Franco as director. In the role of Tommy Wiseau, he’s great. He’s genuinely very, very good. But the film needed less jocularity, it needed some more goddamned heart.
I do hope that James Franco is nominated for on Oscar for his role, though, if for no other reason than to see Tommy Wiseau himself attend the ceremony. Holy shit, can you imagine?