Nearly 14 and a half years after its premiere, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is still as discussed, quoted and admired as ever, even if it’s not for the reasons that Wiseau intended. For the few that are uninitiated, The Room is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, with Ross Morin notoriously calling Wiseau’s incredible disaster, “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” With countless reviews and analyses all over the internet detailing why the film is such a trainwreck (and there are a lot of reasons why), it’s almost impossible to say anything new or unique about it. However, The Room is such a hilariously strange cinematic anomaly that it’s still worth seeing regardless, even if it is just to experience how uniquely terrible it really is.
Ten years after The Room was released, Greg Sestero, who played Mark in Wiseau’s film, wrote a tell-all with journalist Tom Bissell that details how Sestero’s relationship with Wiseau, and their struggle to get a break in Hollywood, led to the incredibly troubled production and premiere of The Room. Now, James Franco has brought Sestero’s story to life in a flawed, but hilarious, heartfelt, and often tragic way, that honours Wiseau’s film and his ambitions, while clearly showing how his vision was ultimately doomed from the start.
As many critics and fans have already said, Franco does an incredible job portraying The Room’s mysterious writer, producer, director and star, Tommy Wiseau. Everyone else in the cast is certainly good, but none of them stand out in the way that Franco does here. From his distinct, mysterious accent all the way down to his odd mannerisms, he transforms into Tommy Wiseau in the way that Jim Carrey transformed into Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon. Much like Carrey with Kaufman, it’s really apparent that Franco has tons of respect for Wiseau, and wants to portray him as accurately and lovingly as possible. By having that mentality, he brings a lot of humanity to Wiseau as a character, depicting him as a flawed and frustrated artist with a dream. Sure, it’s incredibly simplistic and arguably cliched, but Franco’s brilliant performance allows us to relate to Wiseau in ways that even the screenplay can’t.
While his performance as Wiseau is truly remarkable, the same can’t be said about Franco’s direction. Stylistically, Franco decides to present the making of The Room in a somewhat gritty, documentary-like fashion, that could’ve easily been more dynamic. Much in line with Franco’s style, Brandon Trost’s cinematography is uninspired, and Dave Porter’s score is completely forgettable.
It’s really easy to argue that in more capable or confident hands, this could have been a more stylistically interesting film. Since the comparisons are inevitable at this point, look at Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, about the early career of Edward D. Wood Jr. (Plan 9 from Outer Space) and his relationship with Bela Lugosi. Stylistically, Burton depicts the early years of Wood by paying direct homage to the style of a 1950’s B-movie. It not only makes complete sense, since Ed Wood is about a 1950’s B-movie director, but it also feels nostalgic, clever, and dynamic in how that style honours the films that Wood made. So in that regard, it is a tad disappointing that The Disaster Artist doesn’t go to the same lengths to have a stylistic flair that compliments The Room.
However, with that said, Franco’s stylistic choices aren’t necessarily bad because there’s something really fascinating about it all. He takes the story of, what is probably, one of the craziest, most absurd film shoots of all time, and examines it from a raw and personal lens. Not only does it actually make the film and its subjects funnier by having this stark contrast of the raw and the absurd, but it also adds a layer of humanity to the whole film. The scene where Tommy and Juliette Danielle (played by Ari Graynor) are about to shoot one of the many sex scenes that plague The Room, could have easily been a highly exaggerated farce under another director, but because of Franco’s raw and personal approach, there’s a lot of subtle yet devastating dramatic weight within that scene, even with bits of absurdity sprinkled on the surface.
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s screenplay is, for better or worse, also worth noting. For better, their work is really clever, funny and heartfelt, perfectly capturing the spirit of Sestero and Bissell’s book. Certainly, they do mock, but they also go beyond treating Wiseau and The Room as the butt of every joke. They mostly understand him in the way that Sestero understands him, helping to fuel Franco’s performance. They also give everyone else enough development to where they feel like more than just spectators watching The Room fall apart as it comes together. For worse, they feel more focused on celebrating Wiseau and his film that they seem to overshadow plenty of key moments from the book involving his abusive nature on set. For instance, they completely gloss over Sestero’s claim that Wiseau cast him as Mark even though he had already cast someone else in that role months before, even humiliating that actor in his audition. In the film, Wiseau offers Sestero the part first, and he accepts. The script does still acknowledge Wiseau’s brash behaviour on set in a couple of moments, but it never feels like enough in the grand scheme of things. With all that said, it is a really solid script that mostly captures the essence of Sestero and Bissell’s book incredibly well.
It’s really easy to recommend The Disaster Artist to fans of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, and everything that came out of it. It’s a really funny, heartfelt and loving tribute to Wiseau, his dreams and the disasterpiece that came out of it all, with an exceptional performance by James Franco. It doesn’t feel as easy to recommend this to those who have no idea what The Room is because this feels like a film that was made mainly with the fans in mind. For the uninitiated, go see The Room at one of the many theatres screening it on a monthly basis to a sold-out crowd (including Edmonton’s own Metro Cinema), or watch it with a group of friends. It’s truly the only way to understand why it’s still talked about after all these years.
(Featured Image: The Disaster Artist, A24/Warner Bros.)