by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
The Room, a notoriously bad movie that quickly became a cult classic. James Franco directs The Disaster Artist and stars as The Room’s writer-producer-director and star Tommy Wiseau. The film details Wiseau’s journey to make the movie with his friend and collaborator Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco) and all the interpersonal awkwardness and production insanity that followed.
I’m a very big fan of The Room and I enjoyed The Disaster Artist for the most part. It’s funny, crowd-pleasing and makes for a good companion piece to watch alongside The Room. I have some criticisms, though, and think this subject would be better explored as a documentary than as a feature. I also believe in some ways The Disaster Artist film would work better for people who don’t know about The Room or Tommy Wiseau and this was their introduction. There are a lot of scenes of people reacting to how weird Tommy can be and it would have been nice to see the movie more through Wiseau’s point of view instead of just Sestero’s. That may have proven impossible, though, since part of Wiseau’s mystery is that he will never give you a straight answer on anything. What is your history with The Room, Rob, and what did you think of The Disaster Artist? You said you read the book too, right? How does it compare? I’m only on chapter two right now.
I was mostly on point in those suspicions, as I found that The Disaster Artist fails to live up to its source material in a number of ways. It’s a very okay movie that raises a lot more issues than it cares to explore. Franco’s Wiseau impression is spot-on, but aside from a few vague platitudes about friendship and believing in yourself, it doesn’t seem as though Franco actually has too much to say about Wiseau, The Room, creativity, or perseverance. When compared to something like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, there’s very little here in the way of substance or consequence. I was especially bothered by the opening and closing bumpers, the first being a series of celebrities talking about The Room and the second being a series of side-by-side comparison shots between the original film and Franco’s recreation. I thought they were part and parcel of Franco’s indecisive approach to the material. Is Tommy the hero, or is it Greg? Did Tommy stumble into inadvertent success, or does he truly know something we don’t? What exactly are we celebrating? Isn’t it cool that we matched everything shot-for-shot?
More than anything, the film made me want to reread The Disaster Artist, which delves quite a bit deeper into the mystery of Tommy Wiseau. In the book, author Greg Sestero recounts his experiences as a struggling twenty-something in Hollywood who had no choice but to take a paying gig with this eccentric weirdo. It chronicles the ways in which he was forced to act as the film’s de facto line producer and put out the almost constant fires that Tommy was starting on set. The film version cuts through all that, simplifying things into a sort of “yeah, but friendship!” affair. It was fine, overall, and I fully acknowledge that I’m being a little hard on it. I was just hoping for a bit more.
Rob: There’s the Ripley stuff, the questions about Tommy’s age and origin, and the source of the money (Chloe Lietzke, executive producer of The Room and Tommy’s mysterious benefactor, is completely absent from the film), all of which are raised as major issues (so much so that they’re brought up again in the closing text) but never explored. Honestly, I think my frustration stems from my issue with biopics being made about people who are still alive or who are enticed to cooperate in a production of this kind. It works with something like The Social Network, but too much of this feels like a puff piece. Tommy is legitimately horrible to actress Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor) in a scene that is largely shaken off with a laugh after a few minutes of discomfort. Again, the book paints him as much more of a codependent, manipulative sociopath whose true intentions (not to mention his true level of self-awareness) are never known for sure. The movie sort of dilutes that, like in the moment at the premiere when he says something like, “I’m glad you all enjoyed my comedic film the way I obviously intended it from the start.” We all know that Tommy’s rebranded his sincere homage to Tennessee Williams as a “black comedy” in the years since its release, but having him come out and say it in a moment of contrived epiphany rings so false and antithetical to everything we’ve learned about him. The real Tommy might be cognizant of his insane persona, but Disaster Artist Tommy is not. In fact, the message of the film relies on us normalizing and empathizing with him. The whole thing just felt unfocused and a little vanilla.
Rob: First, I totally agree with what you’re saying about inverting the Hollywood dream archetypes, and maybe that’s why I wish the Sestero character had the depth he had in the book (for example, it totally ignores the fact that Sestero was in Retro Puppet Master!). Next, I honestly have no opinion on the whole “Is Tommy faking it?” thing. Neither option would surprise me, and I think the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. My three-year-old knows when he’s being a jerk, but he’ll always take that behavior as far as it’ll go if it meets his ends. Maybe it’s the same thing? Anyway, I loved those few times the film pivoted to Tommy’s “human nature” line whenever he was cornered about his weird behavior (like when Seth Rogen’s director of photography urges him not to laugh at the “hospital on Guerrero Street” story). That’s where things got interesting for me, when Tommy was throwing up a mirror to everyone who challenged him and saying “No, YOU’RE weird, I’m just honest!” The film just didn’t do enough of that.
Reading what I’ve written here, I’m coming off way harder on The Disaster Artist than I mean to be. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a big smile on my face through most of the film or that I didn’t giggle like a fool when Tommy explained to Greg that none of Greg’s friends had as nice a car as Tommy’s because “all [your] friends are little kids.” There are legitimately funny moments in this movie, and again, I’m probably just way too familiar with this whole story for them to land with the gravity that they should. I’m blaming myself for 50% of my frustrations on this one. It’s a fun performance from the senior Franco and a story that I’m very happy to see gain wider exposure. The audience at my screening really loved it, and they seemed eager to check out The Room for themselves.
This is the time of year where I’m so focused on if any new movie I see will make my top ten list that I think I’m a little judgy on ones that are just good, and that’s what The Disaster Artist is - just good. It made me happy as a fan of The Room. I’m voting “Oh, hi Mark Ahn.”
Rob: I’m also going with a soft Mark “I’m Very Busy” Ahn on this one. I would encourage anyone interested to read The Disaster Artist for a little more in-depth information, but this is a solid three-star effort. Speaking of your top ten, does this one make the cut?
Adam: Nope. I had to bump Wish Upon recently and that breaks my heart a little. If the year ended today, I’d have a solid ten I think. There’s still about a half dozen “contenders” I need to see, though.
Rob: I’m nowhere on my list, but that’s mostly because I also need to play catch-up on so many movies. Like Dunkirk. Still haven’t seen Dunkirk. But I’ll tell you what I WILL see, and that’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Get your stuffed porg toys ready, everyone.
Adam: Don’t plan so much, Rob, it might not turn out right. Until next time…
Rob: These seats are reserved. Haah, haah.