The Room – written, directed, produced, starring, and self-financed by Hollywood weirdo Tommy Wiseau – is a bad film. Objectively, one of the worst feature films ever made. A preening vanity project, made in the most haphazard and embarrassingly amateurish way possible. It’s a film you should watch once for the experience, and then throw it in the bin.
But you can’t leave it at just one viewing. The Room is so fascinating and strange in its horrendousness, it frankly demands repeat viewings. The human brain can’t possibly comprehend the entire spectrum of how hilariously terrible The Room is after seeing it only once. It’s a true piece of outsider art – kind of like those paintings done by death row prisoners, where they splattered their canvas with hair, teeth and human shit. It’s fucking dreadful, but you can’t look away. The Room is like that. You have to watch it again and again. And it’s that desperate need to see it more than once which has built the midnight movie cult around this film, and around the weird secretive man who made it.
Based on the terrific behind the scenes book written by co-star and line producer Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist looks to unpick some of the mysteries around this bonkers production, the myths that have sprung up around it, and succeeds in giving us a deeply compelling character study of an extraordinary, complicated, deluded, and damaged man.
James Franco directs, and of course also plays Tommy. Although way too young, he is surprisingly perfect, capturing that otherworldliness of Tommy, and mimicking his speech and mannerisms perfectly. The thick Eastern European accent (which he claims is from New Orleans), the bizarre clothing, and the vast mop of dyed black 80s wrestler hair are all masterfully recreated.
Little brother Dave Franco takes on the role of Greg, the audience surrogate and gateway into Tommy’s World. Doing away with the split narrative of Sestero’s memoir, the film begins with their first meeting at an acting class in San Francisco in the late 90s. Flashing through the early chapters, Franco charts the friendship of Tommy and Greg in broad strokes, establishing their weird friendship borne out of the same ambition to be big Hollywood stars.
As much as it is a story about making the worst movie of all time, The Disaster Artist is also a story of Hollywood, but told by the guys on the bottom rung. This isn’t rags to riches. This isn’t a star is born. These aren’t the guys who make it. They are the pipe-dreamers and failures. In a terrific cameo from Judd Apatow as a big-shot producer, he puts Tommy in his place for doing everything wrong in his attempt to make it big. “It’s one in a million, even with Brando’s talent,” he tells a crestfallen Tommy.
And so the film also becomes a story of unwavering friendship. How else could The Room have been made had these two not stuck together, despite all of the challenges. This is what makes Greg as equally fascinating as Tommy. Why did he stick around? There’s ample evidence to suggest that Tommy’s toxic narcissism and streak of wild jealousy was holding Greg back in Hollywood. During the shoot of The Room, Greg has other opportunities. But he stays with the film. Tommy is obviously a bad actor, a bad writer, and a hopeless filmmaker. But what is Greg’s excuse? Has his career stalled because he hitched his wagon to Tommy? Or is the truth he’s simply not very good either?
This is what makes The Disaster Artist so interesting. But what makes it sing is the making of The Room. Jam-packed with familiar faces taking on the roles of the cast and crew, Franco brilliantly recreates what can only be described as the most shambolic film set in history. Crucially, the film we are watching never loses its good-natured fascination with Tommy and the film they are making. The only snark comes from the incredulous reactions of Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer, as the script supervisor and director of photography, who can’t believe what they are seeing.
Fans of The Room will delight at the sight of some of those now iconic moments being recreated. There can be no question of Franco’s affection for the original film. His eye for the finer details is spot on, and he shows this off brilliantly in a mid-credit side-by-side sequence. Things waver slightly with the depiction of the premiere, which is wildly mythologised by Franco (the real event by all accounts was a much more awkward and unpleasant affair) but this works as a neat shorthand for what would happen to the film in the following years.
This blu-ray release comes with a couple of brief featurettes about the making of the movie, and one with a bunch of famous actors all asking questions about Tommy. There’s also a feature commentary with the Franco brothers, the two writers of the film, and the real Tommy and Greg.
Will The Disaster Artist appeal to viewers who haven’t seen The Room? I personally don’t think they’ll get as much out of it, but if it sends them on a quest to seek out Wiseau’s film, then I suppose that’s a good thing. But it really shouldn’t be.
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor Director: James Franco Writer: Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter Released By: Warner Bros. Certificate: 15 Duration: 104 mins Release Date: 9th April 2018