Bad movies are made every single day. The great majority of them are put into an inescapable black hole made for ill-devised passion projects, big-budget misfires, and sequels that no one ever wanted. If they’re lucky, they get a slight rebound on the DVD market. The Room is different. Produced, directed, starring, and written by Tommy Wiseau, The Room falls under the category of “so bad it’s good.” The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco, looks to capture everything that went wrong, and a few things that miraculously went right.
Famously, we don’t know Tommy’s age, where he’s from, or where he acquired his wealth (he owns two apartments). Nevertheless, we do know that however eccentric Tommy is, he believes in himself and he’s willing to put himself out there, which creatively, is half the battle.
The Disaster Artist is mostly split into two parts, the first being the friendship between Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy (James Franco), while the second recounts the making of The Room. The first half is mostly a symbiotic buddy film, Tommy needs Greg as a friend, and Greg needs Tommy’s care free attitude and confidence. Franco superbly captures Tommy’s mannerisms. At times he exaggerates, but he does so to get the point across.
Greg is the total opposite. For the most part, he’s “normal.” He’s just a guy who wants to be an actor, and he’d probably still be just a guy if he hadn’t met Tommy. This is evident in the diner scene. Much like Pulp Fiction, we see a “couple” talking themselves into doing something “dangerous.” In Pulp Fiction, it’s robbing the dinner. In The Disaster Artist, it’s weirding the customers out by performing a line reading, then demanding an applause. Under the guise of Tommy, Greg rises from quivering actor to loud meal disrupter.
In fact, sometimes Tommy’s a motivational speaker and sometimes he’s like a stand-up comedian. You watch him with the expectation that he’s going to make you laugh, and sometimes you laugh at things that aren’t funny because you’re in a laughing mood—later wondering what you ever found funny.
While the humor does transition into the second half of the film, I love that the movie doesn’t specifically laugh at Tommy. The audience might laugh at him, but there is an endearment shown for the subject. If all of The Disaster Artist was a “let’s take a huge dump on Tommy” fest, then it would falter fairly quickly. Instead, the main thrust of the film is to demonstrate how persistent Tommy is, and how difficult it is to remain persistent when everyone is telling you that you’re not good enough.
Later, the film chronicles the making of The Room. Sometimes Tommy is so incompetent we’re surprised that the light bulbs were screwed in properly. A few of his missteps, include filming in both 35mm and HD Digital, nearly doubling his filming costs, building exact-replicas of sets for locations that were just outside his door, and putting a billboard up for over a year to promote the movie. Tommy is often volatile, as he’s often criticized by his DP, Sandy (Seth Rogan), and his cast. He’s also thrown into the jilted lover role as Greg begins to drift away from him.
As Tommy makes The Room, and he hires and fires his staff at will, The Room devotees are treated to some “iconic” scenes, “You’re tearing me apart,” the sex scene, and “Hi, Mark.” Some of these callbacks are so realistic that at the end of The Disaster Artist, they’re actually shown side-by-side with the originals. The only real weakness of any of the performances in the film is that they may be too good. When shown as a comparison to The Room scenes, there’s a stark difference in that department.
Additionally, in The Disaster Artist, we’re continually reminded of how objectively horrible The Room is. However, we’re also reminded of what makes it special. Make no mistake, Wiseau’s passion project is horrible, like incredibly horrible, like remove your finger nail horrible, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel horrible, Geico commercials horrible, The Love Guru horrible, but it’s also amazing that one person could direct, produce, star, and write their own movie, and get it shown in Hollywood. It takes a special dedication to create something objectively bad and make it into a success. No matter what anyone thinks of Wiseau that accomplishment can’t be taken away. The film has actually made its money back, and if that’s not a success in Hollywood, then I don’t know what is. In fact, it’s loved by millions of fans around the world, and it’s part of midnight screenings and late night drinking games.
I mean, how many movies can say they’ve had a movie made about them? Casablanca can’t hold a candle to that, so stick that in your pipe Bogey. Because Tommy Wiseau may not have been James Dean, Brando, or Bogart, but he wasn’t left waiting for Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac either.
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Photo Credit: Film School Rejects