The Disaster Artist December 18, 2017
June Diane Raphael
1 Hr., 38 Mins.
products the results of studios trying to cash in on popular trends, or filmmakers, talented or otherwise, failing to translate a good idea into a sound piece of cinema. So often are bad movies so insufferable because they also feel so disingenuous; a bad movie, after all, still moves along as if it were a masterwork long after we’ve decided that we’d like to wash it off the moment we leave the theater.
But The Room doesn’t suffer from this problem. It is a fascinating failure, a disaster with a detectable heartbeat. Clearly, it is the work of a filmmaker who put his heart and his soul into his art and failed. It’s awful, sure, but it tries so hard to be good that it becomes charming, in a way. It also helps that its unintentional hilarity is consistent enough to turn it into as much an accidental laugh-fest as Claudio Fragasso’s equally beloved Troll 2 (1990).
Fans of The Room know its backstory by heart by now. They know that it was made by a greasy-haired eccentric named Tommy Wiseau, who, to this day, will not reveal his date of birth, the country from which he originated, or what his career looked like before The Room came to be. They also know that the movie, essentially Wiseau’s take on the melodramas of the 1950s with a semi-autobiographical twist, was shot for a staggering $6 million, starred an ensemble of largely inexperienced actors, and was promoted, most infamously, through a single, bizarre billboard placed on Highland Avenue just north of Fountain.
In the years since The Room’s original release, it has, against the odds, become a staple on the midnight movie circuit. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), fans around the world continue to flock to sold-out screenings to laugh at the self-serious shenanigans showcased in the movie, sometimes even bumping elbows with Wiseau and some of the movie’s cast members.
It’s been so thoroughly mythologized over the years – with countless interviews, oral histories, and pre-screening Q&A sessions to make all territories pretty completely explored – that it seems relatively odd that actor-director James Franco would choose 2017 as the year in which to delineate the making of the 2003 so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece. It’s not celebrating any sort of anniversary, and the book from which the Franco film’s events are based came out a little over four years ago.
But the resulting film, The Disaster Artist is such a delight – appealing to fans of The Room and newbies alike – that its strange, perhaps even unnecessary existence feels earned. It is in no doubt an efficient comedy, but it is more layered than we might expect: it is so much more substantial than a movie helmed by self-loving screwball James Franco has any right to be.
The movie itself spans from 1998 and 2003, depicting the tumultuous making, as well as the pre and post stages, of The Room. It also details the unconventional friendship of Wiseau and the latter film’s co-star Greg Sestero, who first met in a cheap acting class and then went on to become friends, roommates, and, eventually co-workers. Franco plays Wiseau, and his younger brother, Dave, portrays Sestero.
Judging from adverts and interviews, we anticipate this biographical comedy to be something of an odd couple-centric romp, priceless reenactments just the icing on the cake of the laughfest for which we’ve prepared ourselves. But while the guffaws are steady – the elder Franco’s Wiseau impression is spot on and garners the movie some of its funniest lines – surprising is the truth that The Disaster Artist is an effective drama, too.
It’s a poignant story illustrating the arc experienced by so many creative types trying to make it in Hollywood. We see a burst of optimism that eventually dips down into a flatline of rejection and failure, progressively petering into the inevitability of giving up. We can feel the sorrow in the hearts of the fictionalized versions of both Wiseau and Sestero. Even with all his over-the-top absurdities, we can feel Wiseau’s pain as he’s openly laughed at time and time again. And we’re increasingly crushed the more obvious it becomes that Sestero just isn’t the good actor he wishes he were, and that, if Wiseau weren’t always following him around, he’d at least get some work.
The twist here, I suppose, is that Wiseau and Sestero took matters into their own hands and accidentally created a success for themselves that they never could have foreseen. But even then, there’s a certain sort of sadness in knowing that Wiseau will never be the Elia Kazan type he so wanted to be, or that Sestero will be known more as a disaster artist’s sidekick than a legitimate artist. This compassion prevents The Disaster Artist from coming across as 98 minutes worth of mockery.
Franco finds the balance between melancholy and balls-to-the-wall humor. I got a kick out of all the on-the-nose recreations witnessed in the “making-of” scenes (they mimic the perfection of Adult Swim’s The Greatest Event in Television History [2013-’14]), and I relished just how immaculate the performances were: the Franco brothers are exquisitely multifaceted, and the supporting players, all respectable stars, find the essence of the people they’re playing. (I also loved the inclusion of comedic actors Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas, who have co-hosted the bad-movie-analyzing How Did This Get Made podcast for more than seven years; their being here almost feels like a stamp of approval.)
Perhaps The Disaster Artist isn’t one of the year’s best movies – it’s more fun than it is instantaneously indelible. But it is among the most crucial. How revitalizing it is it to watch a movie depicting plausible underdogs actually getting ahead for once. B
atch The Room (2003) just once and you’ll come to the conclusion that it is, in fact, the worst movie ever made. It has all the hallmarks of a particularly misguided cinematic endeavor: confused dialogue, clumsy performances, a convoluted storyline, an inconsistent tone, and peculiar technical choices. (It was shot both digitally and on 35mm, and famously used computer-generated imagery unnecessarily, for instance.)
But The Room is a different kind of bad. So much of the time are subpar