by Ryan Fine
What makes Tommy Wiseau’s The Room such a brilliant film is that from an objective standpoint, it’s one of the worst movies anyone has ever made. You can dissect and analyze what makes The Room bad in exactly the same way you can analyze what makes The Godfather good. In the 15 years since it was first released, its spectacular failure has turned it into a cult classic and a shining pinnacle of so-bad-it’s-good media.
Now, in an attempt to answer some of the many questions surrounding the film, James Franco has concocted The Disaster Artist, an unconventional movie-about-a-movie based on Greg Sestero’s book of the same name. Not only does The Disaster Artist manage to pull off a coherent story based on one of the least coherent stories of all time, but this is actually the first great movie James Franco and Seth Rogen have ever made.
Playing the impossible character
Where is Tommy Wiseau from? How did he get the money to make The Room? How old is he? All of these questions and more are asked of Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, but he answers none of them and hasn’t done so in the real world either. Considering that Wiseau is one of the most mysterious figures on the planet, James Franco had his work cut out for him trying to portray him on the big screen.
But man, did he pull it off.
In The Disaster Artist, James Franco focuses on the bare essentials of Tommy Wiseau. His character is aloof but good-humored, and passionate but certainly not talented. He even does a pretty good job at catching the nuances of Wiseau’s infamous accent from God-knows-where. It’s tough to call him a natural fit for the role, but then again, who would be? He does as good of a job as anyone could have when playing a real-life alien creature.
James Franco is not the only star of this show. The Disaster Artist serves as the first collaboration between James and Dave Franco, the latter of whom plays opposite his brother as Greg Sestero (Mark in The Room). Though Dave Franco usually avoids working with James on principle, it’s easy to see why he had to break that rule to co-star in this movie. Based on both his looks and his demeanor, he is a prime choice to fill the shoes of Sestero.
The supporting characters are equally well cast. Cameo roles from Hannibal Buress, Bob Odenkirk and Bryan Cranston are a delight to watch, and none of them even compare to the performances from those playing actors from The Room. The on-set scenes feature countless shot-for-shot remakes of moments from the original movie, with Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman (Denny), Zac Efron as Dan Janjigian (Chris-R), Nathan Fielder as Kyle Vogt (Peter) and Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle (Lisa). Graynor in particular is an expert at replicating her original role and all of its quirks, to the point where sometimes I couldn’t believe she wasn’t the original Lisa.
The story and the story within the story
There’s a reason this movie’s title refers to its source material openly as a disaster. Tommy Wiseau, bent on trying to present The Room as a “real Hollywood movie”, forgot to make sure that it was actually a coherent work of art first and foremost. Its countless sins include repeating lines far more times than necessary, introducing an entire cancer plot and immediately abandoning it, and even planting an entire new character into the last act with no introduction and expecting us not to notice.
But The Disaster Artist isn’t The Room, it’s just a documentation of how The Room happened. And that’s an important distinction, because there are two levels of storytelling going on here at any given time. The marriage of the real-world story of Tommy and Greg with the cinematic story of Johnny and Mark is one of the strong points of The Disaster Artist.
The problem? Anyone who hasn’t seen The Room is immediately going to miss out on half of that narrative. It’s not that it’s impossible to enjoy it without an in-and-out knowledge of the original movie, but considering its nature as a celebration of terrible filmmaking, it works much better as a companion piece than as a standalone movie. Sure, it’s a story of friendship, but on a surface level, it’s tricky to assert how well that friendship works for people who are just now experiencing it for the first time.
“If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live”
Some of the strongest areas of The Disaster Artist are its personality and its faithfulness. It’s a hilarious movie, and although well-deserved credit should be given to the writers and actors, much of that humor comes directly from the fact that it’s a movie about Tommy Wiseau. And that’s not to mock him; Tommy Wiseau is a legitimately interesting person and he’s a lot of fun to watch on screen. The heart that he puts into his work is unmatched by just about anyone else in the industry, regardless of how it turns out.
The chemistry between Tommy and Greg is bizarre but magnificent. Tommy’s early interactions with Greg’s mother as the two are about to move in together are hysterical, as is Tommy’s attempt to make up for his mistakes by injecting them into his screenplay. The Disaster Artist is James Franco’s most critically successful film to date, and that’s because he didn’t have to try to make it funny. He just told the story as it happened, and if it turned out to be funny all the better. Most of the re-shot scenes from The Room are stunningly faithful to the original, done with the same care and respect you would expect from a remake of a movie leagues better. By the end of the movie, it’s hard to avoid laughing at the simple fact that a story like this could possibly be so heartwarming.
Featured image from AnyGoodFilms
The Disaster Artist
‘The Disaster Artist’ may come from the masters of cheap humor, but the result of their tribute to ‘The Room’ is anything but cheap. This movie is a delightfully fun and competent retelling of a story that evades telling, and the fact that it turned out so well is a minor miracle on the part of the people involved. Though people unfamiliar with the subject matter may find this to be a little over their heads, it’s a must-see for any fan of ‘The Room’.