2017 | rated R | starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Allison Brie, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Megan Mullally | directed by James Franco | 1 hr 44mins |
Studio Pitch: The story behind the making of Tommy Wiseau’s infamous anti-classic The Room
As the story goes, it was Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas on the set of Veronica Mars in around 2003 that started circulating The Room around Hollywood. So it sort of make sense why Bell is the first person we see in The Disaster Artist. It doesn’t make sense, and starts the movie off on a bizarre note, that she is the first of several celebrities as themselves voicing how much they love The Room directly into the camera documentary-style. It seems like a spare spot to plug in an overflow of James Franco’s friends into the film and the first of several bizarre choices that Franco makes as director along the way to bringing the behind-the-scenes story of how the The Room came into being.
I’m not sure how anyone who hasn’t seen The Room would take The Disaster Artist and I’m pretty sure I won’t have to because why would they see this movie? It would probably play better for someone that isn’t familiar with The Room. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, The Room is a self-indulgent opus for one Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious man with a suspicious amount of money, an indeterminate age and an Easter-block European sounding accent, writing, producing, directing and starring in a very serious and utterly nonsensical drama of… I don’t know, modern relationships. It falls in that perfect bad movie nexus between filmmaking ineptitude, genuine sincerity and ego-nourishing that makes it one of the most laugh-out-loud bad movies ever created. It is a nonsensical piece of work, seemingly produced by an alien or a mental patient, in which Wiseau seems to be working through feelings of betrayal that unfolds in layers of idiocy and launches into sex scenes with less pretense than actual porn films. From the dialog to the production to the sets to the music to it’s moralizing themes, everything from top to bottom is insane. While many bad movies (Birdemic, Troll 2, etc ) are failures of filmmaking, The Room is a failure of filmmaking and ideas.
The center of all this is Wiseau himself, a vampire-like figure who wears sunglasses indoors, demands constant secrecy about everything he does, manipulates everyone around him and insists on lovingly lit shots of his own nude body despite being covered in mysterious scares. To this day it’s unclear how much Tommy understands about what The Room actually says or that it’s fandom is entirely ironic. Ironically, while Wiseau seems to have no idea how movies are put together or how humans behave in them, he certainly seems to have seen a lot of classics. He has to have. The Room directly pulls from Rebel Without a Cause and Citizen Kane and Wiseau seems to fancy it all as a Streetcar Named Desire-esque Tennessee Williams hot-house character drama. That may be the most rare and surreal thing about The Room. Most amateur bad movies are genre films. Even when they take themselves seriously there is still a built in out for the fun of a cheesy monster costume or hyper-macho action hero. The Room is a straight relationship drama, nothing more, and it’s as serious as a heart-attack.
All this is key to The Disaster Artist because your enjoyment of the film is going to vary based on how much you’ll enjoy Franco’s Wiseau impression. The movie is built entirely around it. I’ll admit I laughed really hard at some of this stuff. Franco nails the voice, the laugh and the attitude. Playing Tommy Wiseau is basically cinema’s biggest license to chew through the scenery where nothing is too over-the-top and Franco goes appropriately hog wild. Watching Tommy dropped in other situations (like making acting class partner Greg Sistero scream Shakespeare in a full diner) is pretty hilarious.
My trepidation with The Disaster Artist was that Franco and company would lampshade jokes that are otherwise best left a mystery. I don’t want The Room over explained to the point it all of the air gets sucked out of it. Not a problem here, many of the craziest behind-the-scenes legends from the set are completely ignored here while Franco widdles The Room experience down to focus on the friendship between Wiseau and actor and roommate Greg Sistero (Dave Franco). A friendship that turns so caustic it flips the central “betrayal” behind the film, speculating none-so-subtly that Wiseau wasn’t writing this movie about a former lover, but Sistero himself.
Instead of a head-slapping look at an outrageous movie production gone horribly wrong or an endearing Ed Wood-style tale of people perusing their dreams faster than they have the talent to realize them, The Disaster Artist splits the difference. At times wanting us to feel for Wiseau at times creeped out by him. The film becomes more of a look at how James Franco sees The Room, in that way recalling recent millennial-age documentaries that aren’t about their subjects as much as they are about how the documentarians think about those subjects – ie. someone celebrating their own fandom. He recreates entire scenes from The Room for no reason at all showing them during the closing credits next to the real thing. He minimizes any actor who worked on the film that wasn’t Wiseau and Sistero down to almost nothing. What did Juliette Danielle and April Paris think during production? James Franco sure doesn’t care, instead giving the best reaction lines to no-name crew played by Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer. Because. And he certainly doesn’t mine this experience for any deeper meaning.
Franco’s The Disaster Artist turns the insane story behind one history’s funniest bad movies into the same dumb buddy-comedy he and Rogen have been making since Pineapple Express. It is funny, but we know it could have been so much more. Most importantly, it frustratingly adds nothing to the already side-splitting experience The Room itself provides.