Directed by James Franco
I’ve never seen The Room, but you don’t need to to watch The Disaster Artist. Watching this comedy with a crowd, I got the sense that the experience of watching the original ‘bad’ movie isn’t much different than this one. James Franco’s film tries to and succeeds in recapturing the communal joy of watching that original movie, though it doesn’t add much to the experience. Watching The Disaster Artist is like having a bunch of funny friends describe to you The Room. You get it, but you don’t learn anything more than if you saw it yourself.
I don’t think watching this movie at home would offer the same sensation as watching it in theaters. The stranger sitting next to me at Century 16 was giggling throughout the film in a non self-conscious way that suggested we might’ve been grade school friends, and something about that made me happy.
The Room is a terrible movie made with the intention to not be terrible. It’s a melodrama, I suppose, that involves lifelong friends, backstabbing, romance, football-tossing and suicide. That movie starred Tommy Wiseau, a man whose physical presence is one of the main jokes of The Disaster Artist. Here Wiseau is played by James Franco, pulling an acting/directing double duty much as Wiseau did in The Room.
Wiseau, as presented in this film, aspires to be an all-American hero, something like James Dean. The problem is that between his age, shoulder-length black hair and hard to place accent, he would be the villain in a movie if he knew how to act. Despite not knowing how to act, Wiseau has passion. And money, a lot of money.
The movie treats Wiseau’s story as a very familiar rags to riches type of journey. Wiseau is befriended by Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), an important character if only because he can act as the audience surrogate, furrowing his brow at Wiseau’s quirks and strange habits.
Greg understands that Wiseau is a strange figure. He’s both alarmed and impressed by him, but he always treats him like a friend. In an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, James Franco expressed a heartwarming sincerity towards Wiseau’s story. He acknowledges the strange mystery around Wiseau’s background and how he made his money, but he also sympathizes with Wiseau’s earnestness to be what everyone else told him he couldn’t be. To be frank, while I enjoyed this movie, the way Franco described Wiseau in this interview was more heartfelt than anything in this movie. Franco seems to look at Wiseau with a strange curiosity and strong empathy that this movie was missing, at least if it aspired to be anything more than a simple but well-made comedy.
The Disaster Artist walks a fine line between parody and homage. There’s very little the story needs to do to make this film funny because, kind of like I, Tonya, so much of it is crazy as is. Wiseau as a character is kind of insane, and the quality of The Room is funny enough as it is. Hell, the cast is complete with a number of comedians whose role is just to comment on how strange this all is. It’s like watching The Room next to Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Hannibal Buress, Jason Mantzoukas and so many others.
So I don’t think The Disaster Artist does anything that special other than to preserve the magic of The Room. This is a movie meant to be watched in a group, but maybe even alone you could feel the energy of an audience since half of the cast might as well be the audience itself. Hell, the movie ends with a long sequence showing the first screening of the room, celebrating the communal nature of this viewing experience. We’re just a theater of people laughing while watching a theater of people laughing. The Disaster Artist is a celebration of all movie comedies, in a strange way.
And at the same time, this could be so much more. The text at the end of the film reminds us that no one knows where Tommy Wiseau is really from or how he became a millionaire or even why he was so motivated to act. No one even knows how old he is. You get the sense that the most fascinating part of Wiseau’s story remains untold. There are so many questions and so many possible theories as to his background, but The Disaster Artist never investigates this. Maybe it doesn’t need to. It’s enjoyable as it is, but presented this opportunity, Franco must have been able to do so much more with this story. Once the direction was picked, the movie’s execution is wonderful, but it’s that direction that I feel is a little misplaced. Coming out of this movie I have even more questions about Wiseau. It feels like this is where the story only begins.
Up Next: The Third Man (1949), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Mystic Pizza (1988)