Many movies have been released over the years. There has been the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly, but no movie has had quite the same trajectory as Tommy Wiseau’s infamous production, The Room. Wiseau, a newcomer to Hollywood, chose to write, direct, star in, and most mysteriously, entirely fund his dream project. Full of unforgettably awkward lines and inexplicable directing choices, the movie was declared a disaster. But it has also become an eminently watchable disaster, spawning midnight screenings across the country every year. Part of that fascination has birthed a new project directed by and starring James Franco, The Disaster Artist, based on the novel by Greg Sestro, a friend of Wiseau’s who continues to write and produce films with him.
The film begins when Sestro (Dave Franco) first encounters Wiseau. Greg gapes in both horror and admiration as Tommy performs Shakespeare for the entire theater class. Much of the film encourages the audience to do the same. Goggle at James Franco’s wig! Giggle at his accent! Observe as he meticulously recreates your favorite scenes from The Room! The Disaster Artist mines what the audience already knows, making it feel perfunctory as it reveals each new puzzle piece. Perhaps it is because the puzzle seems too neatly put together. The awkward football tossing, Wiseau’s peculiar laugh, the iconic lines, each make an appearance in Tommy’s and Greg’s interactions. It is all a collection of references rather than a movie that can stand on its own. When the movie does try to chronicle Greg’s and Tommy’s lives before the making of The Room, it treads in clichés. It is disappointing that a character like Wiseau could be revealed to be simply just another failed LA dreamer, just another jealous friend. It is a case where humanizing the main character does not have the expected effect. Perhaps it would have been better to let the curtain be. The mystery behind it will always be more interesting than the truth.
One of the more intriguing narratives of the movie considers the friendship between Tommy and Greg. Tommy, throughout most of the film, exerts considerable power over the younger, impressionable Greg. He houses Greg in his beautiful LA apartment, drives him around in a Mercedes Benz. To its credit, the movie does not shy away from showing the problematic nature of Tommy’s controlling personality whether it be terrorizing actresses on set to manipulating his friendship with Greg to get what he wants. However, the movie does seem to justify his actions as stemming from a place of insecurity. It is problematic, then, that Tommy is still able to get what he wants from Greg with barely a protest. The characters of The Disaster Artist may be better written than those of The Room, but there is still a missing nuance that can’t be covered up with silly accent. It is hard to believe in characters who seem to be constantly winking at you.
The Disaster Artist knows what audience its playing for. Sometimes, that self-awareness can be captivating. Those who have seen The Room will certainly want to see this movie. However, for me, it actively decreased my investment in the characters, even as I laughed at the impressions and the recreations. It is a well-worn storyline in a well-done package. Both the Franco brothers and Seth Rogen, as the protesting script supervisor of The Room, give terrific performances. The older Franco also does well to meticulously construct and frame shots exactly as they were in the original film. But in the end, the film was a disappointment and unlike The Room, I’m not sure that I will be re-watching it anytime soon.