OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“The Disaster Artist” is a 2017 film directed by, and starring James Franco that is based on the 2013 book of the same name, written by Greg Sestero and Greg Bissell. The book, and the movie, are about the making of the 2003 film “The Room”. For those of you who have not seen “The Room”, here is the basic plot: a responsible, caring, wealthy banker named Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is engaged to Lisa (Juliette Danielle), a manipulative and mercurial young woman. Out of reckless disregard for Johnny’s feelings, Lisa seduces his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), who gives in to her advances immediately. Over the course of the film, Johnny discovers the affair, and is driven to insanity and ultimately suicide because of the betrayal. Viewed through traditional movie criteria, “The Room” is incredibly, incredibly, bad. But, in the same way that Jackson Pollock painted in such a way that confounded traditional art consumers, there is something about the film that transcends the normal way in which people judge movies. By all means, “The Room” is a bizarre and wonderful phenomenon whose prominence is owed to its writer, producer, director, and lead actor, Tommy Wiseau. It is Wiseau, with his strange accent, alien reactions and unusual appearance, that glues the film together. “The Disaster Artist” focuses on Wiseau, the making of “The Room”, and his relationship with Greg Sestero.
Considered by many to be one of the best-worst movies ever made, “The Room” has achieved cult status and can be viewed at midnight screenings in every major American city. I have seen “The Room” four times, and once in theaters at the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. What makes “The Room” unique is that fans interact with the film, calling out to characters and chanting in anticipation for certain scenes. The most riotous of these in-movie rituals occurs whenever the camera pans over a series of framed pictures of spoons that decorate a table in Johnny’s house. Audience members will yell “SPOONS!” and chuck handfuls of plastic spoons at the screen. These midnight screenings are truly a sight to behold, and as a frequent moviegoer, I must say that “The Room” is the most packed theater I have been to in years. The film is alive in such a way that maybe only “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” can truly relate to.
“The Disaster Artist” seeks to give background to “The Room” and begins in the late 1990s, when Wiseau, portrayed by James Franco, first meets Greg Sestero, portrayed by Franco’s brother Dave. The two attend acting school in San Francisco, where Sestero asks Wiseau to help him become more expressive on stage, something the overly-dramatic Wiseau has no issue with. Wiseau and Sestero immediately become friends, even they are vastly different in age and demeanor. Sestero is a young, stereotypical California guy with wavy light brown hair. Wiseau, in a non-sexual way refers to him as “baby face”. Wiseau, on the other hand, casts a dark presence, with scraggly long black hair, odd facial dimples, an inexplicable Eastern European accent and a style that consists of baggy pants held up by multiple studded leather belts. Their only commonality is, as Wiseau says, that they “both have this dream” to become famous stars in Hollywood.
Though Sestero has reservations about Wiseau’s mysterious origins (his exact age and place of birth are unknown), as well as his seemingly endless supply of money (his source of wealth is unknown), the two become roommates in Los Angeles where Wiseau owns an apartment. After a lengthy period of pursuing acting gigs ends in failure for them both, a frustrated Sestero jokingly wishes they could make their own movie. Wiseau responds, mumbling, “a great idea”. Thus, Wiseau begins writing the script for their movie, which he calls “The Room”. Wiseau casts himself in the lead role, and gives the second-lead to Sestero. The rest of “The Disaster Artist” details the making of the movie, which reportedly cost Wiseau around $6 million of his personal money, and was an often chaotic and befuddled process.
The most poignant aspect of “The Disaster Artist” is the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero. James Franco turns in a phenomenal, uncannily similar performance as Tommy Wiseau. The stark similarities are put on full display before the end credits, as actual scenes from “The Room” are shown parallel to re-enactments in “The Disaster Artist”. However, it is Dave Franco’s portrayal of Sestero that allows for the most meaningful scenes between the two friends. You can see Sestero is often torn between loyalty to his eccentric, possibly delusional friend, and his desire to distance himself from Wiseau to better pursue acting in Hollywood. Ultimately, both Wiseau and Sestero end up making sacrifices for one another, and these moments are the best in the movie.
However, “The Disaster Artist” fails in two important ways. For one, it does not shed any light on the ever-mysterious Tommy Wiseau. After the film, we still do not know where he is from, where he got his money, or what inspired him to make “The Room”. Secondly, “The Disaster Artist” does not explore what makes the film a cult classic. There are a lot of very bad movies, but why does “The Room” transcend its badness? Personally, I think that beneath all the hilarity, “The Room” bears a very true and damning message about human nature and the frailty of idealism. Johnny is a good man, yet he is destroyed by a cruel world. Instead of taking on this challenging question, “The Disaster Artist” instead chooses to cater to people who are already familiar with “The Room”.
If I had entered “The Disaster Artist” oblivious to “The Room” and the mystery behind Wiseau, then the movie would not have had any traction. Most of the jokes would have gone right over my head. Any given movie should not need prerequisite viewing to make an impact, it should be able to stand on its own. Thus, while “The Disaster Artist” will satisfy pre-baptized fans of “The Room”, it fails to mine the deeper questions that could reach a wider audience.