The Disaster Artist (2017)
Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Directed by James Franco
Struggling actor Greg Sestero has a problem bringing out emotion in his performances. Then one night he witnesses Tommy Wiseau, a quiet man in his acting class delivers an embarrassingly over the top monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire. Greg and Tommy strike up a friendship that brings them to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams. Tommy becomes jealous as Greg gets a girlfriend, an agent, and acting parts while he struggles. This pushes Tommy to write the script for The Room which, against all the odds and logic, he produces and goes on to become a modern cult classic.
I first became aware of Wiseau and The Room when he guest directed a segment on Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job! I wasn’t sure if he was another one of the strange amateur actors they would bring on the program or if this movie The Room was for real. My wife and I were able to attend a midnight screening of The Room at a local arthouse theater, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. Very similar to the audience interaction and raucous nature of a Rocky Horror viewing.
I pretty skeptical when I heard James Franco was directing and starring in an adaptation of Greg Sestero’s memoir on his relationship with Tommy, The Disaster Artist. Making this film seemed like a pretty cynical move to capitalize on the growing pop culture trend of The Room and Franco has never impressed me as being that talented of a filmmaker. I can say after seeing the picture I was right to be concerned about both of these things. The Disaster Artist is an incredibly shallow and mediocre film that is the antithesis of everything that people love about The Room. The Room is so enjoyable because of how sincere Wiseau is in making this movie, he has no ulterior motive, he isn’t exploiting a gimmick. He made a movie he cares about. I would argue that Franco doesn’t really care about this film at the level of Wiseau.
The first half of the film works to establish the relationship between our two main characters: Sestero and Wiseau. They are an interesting, contrasting pair and their friendship does make a fascinating story. The film takes a turn for the worse when production on The Room begins. From there on the picture seems to be scenes where Tommy does something weird while filming a scene and we cut to reactions of the cast and crew mugging about how insane this all is. We get this over and over and over. There’s no insight into these characters and who they are. It’s just Franco mimicking scenes from the Room for the rest of the movie. Then during the premiere scene, it’s just a montage of scenes recreated from the original film by more famous actors pretending to be bad.
I suspect Franco was dead set on making his version of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. If you haven’t seen that picture, Burton told the story of writer-director Ed Wood, a man said to have made the worst film of all time Plan 9 From Outer Space. Burton loved Ed Wood, and his love of that figure comes across through the film. When that movie gets down to talking about the influence of cinema on people’s lives and drive of a filmmaker, it feels honest and from the heart. You walk away from Ed Wood loving the title character for his drive and passion. Franco attempts this in the final moments of The Disaster Artist, but it felt cynical and pinned on. I don’t sense that sort of endearment from Franco towards Wiseau. If anything, Franco might want to take some tips from Wiseau on how to make a movie with heart.