Film Critique Fridays - The Disaster Artist / by M. Glenn Gore

Strap in. This is going to take me a moment to explain. Not even a little bit dissimilar from the way people were scarred by and will always remember where they were when JFK was assassinated, the same can be said of those who have witnessed The Room. In fact, there are only two types of people in the world: those who have seen The Room and those who need to goddamn see The Room. But what is it? Really. What even is this?

I mean, I could tell you it's an infamous, initially maligned but now strangely beloved independent film turned cult classic that released in 2003 to an $1800 opening weekend (that's not a typo), and the movie that gave the world notorious actor, writer, director, and occasional vampire Tommy Wiseau, but that honestly doesn't give you much. I could tell you that despite being funded entirely by Wiseau himself from what I can only imagine is the near-incalculable wealth he's amassed over his many centuries of immortal life, I won't because that last part's speculative. And confusing. 

                                       Yes. Stare into the abyss.

                                       Yes. Stare into the abyss.

I could tell you that it might just be the single worst movie ever made, a complete and utter trainwreck of such immense totality that attempts to hurdle Ed Woodian levels of cinematic cataclysm, but that still somehow fails to do it justice. The movie simply cannot be quantified. As far as I can tell, The Room was about a love triangle between Wiseau's character Johnny, his best friend Mark (played by real-life friend Greg Sestero), and Juliette Danielle, who played Johnny's girlfriend Lisa. A number of other fairly unremarkable characters and subplots came and went almost without notice.

The Room came about partly as a result of the adversity Wiseau (especially) and Sestero encountered in their mutual attempts to "break into" Hollywood. Suffering an unknown number of rejections and pushed to the point of surrender, Wiseau decided to do a bold end-run around the system and make his own movie, which was pretty daring when you consider this all happened years before YouTube would make creator-owned and produced content the norm.

Which brings us to The Disaster Artist, a docudrama from director and self-professed fan James Franco (127 Hours, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) based on the award-winning 2013 novel The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, written by the aforementioned Sestero and collaborator Tom Bissell. It chronicled in stark, sometimes cringe-inducing detail, the events that led to the creation, filming, release, and aftermath of The Room. So what we have here is a great movie starring Franco as Wiseau, which is based on a fantastic book written by Sestero about his experience acting in a movie. That was terrible. And his friendship to the real Wiseau. Which was inexplicable.

                                                                                  That's about how it feels.

                                                                                  That's about how it feels.

Actually, that's not true, and it's one of the reasons the film (Disaster Artist, not The Room) shines. Under Franco's capable leadership, Artist delves into the budding friendship between Wiseau and Sestero, how they met in an acting class and how the latter was so taken aback by the former that they forged a fast and seemingly unbreakable bond. No joke, it's a sincere and poignant treatise on the nature and strength of friendship, and how dreams, when unchecked, have the power to put such relationships in jeopardy. Odd as it sounds, watching Artist, I couldn't help but be reminded of The Social Network, what with Wiseau and Sestero's friendship following the very familiar trajectory of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin's.

There's a lovely moment at the beginning of the film in which multiple actors speak briefly but passionately about The Room. And their points are well-made. Hard to argue, even. I couldn't tell you what movie won Best Picture ten years ago. Despite its apparent acclaim, it has managed to slip somewhat by the wayside of our collective film-going unconscious. Yet at fourteen years old, people are still talking about The Room. Think piece after think piece has been written about it. It is referenced in other movies, in TV shows. Its quotes are a signal from complete strangers that, if nothing else, you share this common ground. Midnight screenings that hearken back to the days of Rocky Horror are held regularly. And last night was no exception. The crowd was one of diehards and purists, their mutual love for the source bringing to interactive life what would have otherwise been random, innocuous lines of dialogue to the uninitiated. And it was a thing of beauty. 

                                                        Welcome to the club, TW! We've got jackets. And garters.

                                                        Welcome to the club, TW! We've got jackets. And garters.

The fact that this film has endured is a testament to its rather unexplainable greatness. It may be awful by nearly every metric a film can be judged on, but it approaches that awfulness with such fierce, reckless will that you have to be impressed. Just all in, full speed. It's like there's a Tommy Wiseau-shaped hole in the wall. And Disaster Artist manages to capture that energy. If I could put myself on the set of any one movie from the last twenty years, just to watch it all unfold in real time, it would be this one.

Speaking of which, I can't sign off without giving James Franco all the huzzahs for his performance as Tommy Wiseau. He researched the role meticulously, and it shows through every time he's onscreen. The voice, the mannerisms, the inability to throw a simple football, it's all there. It transcends pastiche. Franco effortlessly discovers Wiseau's vulnerability, an essential feat in pulling it all off. The danger was always that, at the end, it might devolve into parody, but Disaster Artist never mocks. It is, at all times, earnest, handling the dreams and desires of not two-dimensional characters but the honest to God flesh and bone humans they represent. I'm not reaching when I say he deserves an Oscar nod.

Dave Franco puts in equal work as Greg Sestero. Following along with him on this journey is both exhilarating and heartbreaking, like waving to someone aboard the Hindenburg. You know what's coming. It makes enjoying the ride, if naught else, tense. In a way, Artist makes for a striking companion piece to The Room. It is so accurate, so painstakingly recreated, you may find it difficult to return to the original outing, now so heavily armed with the knowledge of the trials and turmoil that plagued what feels like every moment of the production and shaped the lives of all it touched for good or ill.

An impressive motley crew of famous faces round out the cast, most notably Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer, who are both wonderful, but I won't even tell you who else shows up. Much of the fun is had just waiting to see who appears. Talented each, Room lovers all.

All told, The Disaster Artist is a thoughtful and sincere retelling of the dreams that ignited the events that ushered in the chaos that gave birth to the creation of one of the most unforgettable films of this century. Its crusade to get every detail as close to the original as possible veers well into obsessive, but that is not to its detriment. Far from it. It is, above all else, an incredibly reverent film, one that makes no misstep in its clear adoration and morbid curiosity of its source material. And why shouldn't it be? No one involved could have known they were making history, but isn't that usually how history is made?

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5