By: BabyRuth (A Toast) –
Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has been referred to as “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” While there are many deserving films that this honor could arguably be bestowed upon, any doubt of Wiseau’s epic being the worthy recipient of the title is put to rest in the first five minutes. Hell, scratch that, the first minute. No wait, the first line of dialogue.
The Room is very difficult to put into words. If you were to try, some might be “cringe-worthy,” “wrong-headed,” and “incomprehensible.” The most fitting though, is “fascinating.” It’s truly one of those things that must be seen to be believed. It’s an impressive feat in filmmaking in that it displays just how mind-blowingly wrong someone could get every element of a movie. Upon viewing, one may wonder, how in the hell did this even come to be?
As the legend goes, one day in back in the early 2000s, a man from unconfirmed Eastern European whereabouts named Tommy Wiseau decided that he was going to write, direct, produce, and star in his own damn movie after countless rejections trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles. Many months and six million dollars (it has never been revealed where/how he got the money) later, the result was The Room.
Wiseau wasn’t just satisfied with getting the film made though. He truly thought it was something special. He put up a billboard in LA that stayed up for years, took out a full-page “For Your Consideration” ad in Variety magazine, and even held his own red-carpet premiere during which audience members (the ones who didn’t walk out) “were rolling on the floor” and “crying with laughter.” Have I mentioned that The Room is a drama? It has even been compared to the works of Tennessee Williams—by Tommy Wiseau. The movie ended up grossing $1800.00 in its original theatrical run.
But then something bizarre happened. Over time, The Room developed a huge cult following and became a bona fide worldwide phenomenon. Even fourteen years later, cities still have midnight showings similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show in which audience members bring props, dress up, and yell comments at the screen. Wiseau has embraced this odd fame and makes regular appearances at screenings, even if he doesn’t fully understand/accept that people love it because it’s so magnificently awful.
In 2013, Wiseau’s The Room costar and longtime friend, Greg Sestero released a book titled The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made that documented the making of The Room as well as his and Wiseau’s unlikely and often tumultuous friendship. In 2014, James Franco optioned The Disaster Artist’s rights to adapt the book into a film through Seth Rogen’s production company, Point Grey Pictures. Franco also announced that he would direct the film and star as Wiseau.
Which brings us up to now with the long anticipated release of The Disaster Artist.
The first half of the film focuses on the unusual friendship between young, struggling actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The two meet at an acting class when Greg, along with everyone else in the room, is mesmerized, and likely frightened, by Tommy’s insane but commendably uninhibited performance. Greg is shy and reserved and asks Tommy to be his scene partner so he can learn how to break out of his shell. The two quickly develop a bond and move to Los Angeles to become big movie stars.
Thanks to his pretty-boy looks, Greg has a slightly easier go at it, landing an agent (Sharon Stone, in one of many cameos) and a girlfriend (Alison Brie). Things don’t work out so well for Tommy, who is constantly rejected and told to go for villain roles much to his disdain (he insists he is “All-American hero”).
Tommy decides that instead of waiting around for a role that will never come, he’ll just write one for himself. Hence: The Room is born. The latter half of the movie recreates the experience of the filming, culminating with that ill-fated premiere.
Like many who have been chomping at the bit to see this film, I am a devoted The Room enthusiast. I had been a fan of “bad” and offbeat movies my whole life, but nothing could have prepared me for The Room when I first learned of its existence in 2009. I immediately became obsessed, reading anything and everything I could find on it, watching it dozens of times, and attending multiple screenings over the years. I even have a football signed by Tommy and Greg.
So when I first heard that James Franco was planning to make The Disaster Artist I was equally excited and nervous. Make that slightly more nervous than excited. Franco and Rogen’s brand of stoner-comedy often goes for the easy laugh, and subject matter such as The Room is perfect fodder for mean-spirited mockery (anyone who has ever attended a screening can attest to that – there’s always at least a few people who take it too far). So the idea of Franco in Wiseau drag hamming it up and making easy “hey, remember this?” references was a little concerning.
Fortunately, The Disaster Artist is no lazy parody. As a director, Franco strikes the perfect balance between absurdity and humanity. The screenwriting team of Scott Neustradter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now) also must be mentioned here as they do a wonderful job in keeping true to the tone of the source material.
Make no mistake, this is a very, very funny film, easily the funniest of the year. Cry-laugh funny at times. But the humor is smartly found in the stranger-than-fiction situations, never from cruel parody or outright ridicule. It’s sneaky though, because at the same time it is surprisingly poignant and sometimes even sad.
Much has been said about Franco’s performance as Wiseau. And everything you’ve heard is true. He disappears into the role, even at times when that smile threatens to remind the viewer that they’re watching James Franco. He nails the accent, the intonation, and the strange body language. It’s spooky. (Note to Franco: Just please don’t make a James & Tommy Netflix documentary twenty years from now.) But Franco goes a step beyond mere impersonation; he brings vulnerability to Wiseau, portraying him as an actual human being (bean, sorry!) rather than a larger-than-life sideshow. Behind the overconfident exterior there is a person with feelings, feelings that are capable of being hurt. And through Franco’s empathetic performance, we see that. And it’s pretty damn heartbreaking. Along with turning in his best acting work to date, Franco did Wiseau a solid, as his interpretation depicts an endearing outcast just trying to follow his dreams.
That’s not to say the film shies away from showing the unflattering side of its subject. During the filming of one of the many infamous love scenes, Wiseau launches into an insult-filled tirade against his crew and co-star Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor), all while ridiculously clad only in a cock sock. It’s a disturbing look at just how difficult and unhinged Wiseau could be and reportedly was on the set of The Room. In another, he denies Greg, his supposed best friend, a day off to shoot a scene on a hit TV show, purely out of spite and jealousy. It’s a complicated character and a complicated balance, and Franco, as director and actor, handles it extremely well.
Much like last year’s celebrated ode to Hollywood, La La Land, The Disaster Artist is also a tribute to the dreamers and struggling actors of the world, though in a funhouse mirror kind of way to the glossy musical. In addition to Wiseau and Sestero, we get a glimpse of the other people behind their Room counterparts, seeing what they had to endure only to ultimately be rewarded with pretty much the exact opposite of the big break they were hoping for. Graynor is the standout here, she is fantastic as Danielle and as “Lisa” in the recreated scenes. (The real-life actors have a great sense of humor about it all, as evidenced by the very funny mockumentary I recommend to all Room fans available here)
The supporting cast all easily fit into their roles and there’s a family feel to the whole production, not only due to the actual family members (the Franco brothers and Dave’s wife Alison Brie), but frequent Franco collaborators Seth Rogen and Charlyne Yi as well as How Did This Get Made? podcast hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas, who are no doubt responsible for introducing many to The Room. Each seems to have a genuine love for Wiseau’s magnum opus and it shows in their performances.
And then there are the cameos, all of which are great, but Zac Efron’s scene-stealing turn as the intense Dan Janjigian (“Chris-R”) must be singled out along with Josh Hutcherson, whose first appearance in the “Denny” costume elicited uproarious laughter and applause at the screening I attended.
Though the film stays true to events as depicted in Sestero’s book for the most part, there is some use of artistic license. Everything is a bit romanticized and there are a few instances of fact-bending for super-fans to nitpick: In reality, Sestero did not want to star in The Room and was initially only the line-producer (he reluctantly agreed to play Mark after several actors quit), whereas Dave Franco’s Greg couldn’t be more excited at the offer to be cast and seems as optimistic about the movie’s turnout as Wiseau. There is also no terrible dubbing in the recreation of the famous “flower shop” scene. The final act of the premiere condenses months into minutes with the turnaround of the audience from shocked scorn to bewildered amusement. But none of these things get in the way of enjoying the movie and definitely do not merit a second beer, at least not from me.
The biggest debate surrounding this film isn’t whether it’s any good or not, but that if someone not familiar with The Room would enjoy The Disaster Artist as a standalone piece. I’d answer that by likening it to a person going to a concert for a band a they’ve never heard of. They’d still be able to enjoy the show, but they’re not going have the same experience as the person standing next to them who knows all the words to the songs. (Speaking of rock concerts, I would definitely equate the screening I attended, the first public showing in New York City, to one. Some people showed up in costumes/The Room t-shirts and several times the entire sold-out theater broke out into applause for different lines and characters. It was probably the most fun I’ve had at a movie since, well, the last Room screening I attended. My face hurt from smiling/laughing so much.)
So I would highly, highly recommend, at the very least, checking out some clips on Youtube rather than going into the film blind. It definitely helps the viewer appreciate the precise attention to detail both in Franco’s Wiseau and in the meticulously recreated scenes from The Room (word is there is over 30 minutes of these scenes that will be released on the DVD).
Believe the hype. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and heartfelt love letter to everyone involved in, as well as fans of The Room and to outcasts and dreamers everywhere. We’ll see you at the Oscars, Franco. And in perhaps the strangest full-circle in the history of cinema, you too, Wiseau!
Last Call: be sure to stay through the entire credits for a bonus (contractually-obligated) scene starring Tommy Wiseau himself.
The Disaster Artist (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Tommy calls Greg “babyface”
Take a Drink: for every “hahaha”
Take a Drink: for every take of the “I did not hit her” scene
Take a Drink: every time Tommy is rejected
Take a Drink: whenever anyone asks Tommy about his origins, where he got his money, or his age
Take a Drink: for every famous Room line
Do a Shot: for every cameo