Tuesday, December 12, 2017


by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Oh, hi Mark Ahn!

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: This week we’re reviewing the film adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book The Disaster Artist, which details the making of 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.
Rob: Like you and (I’m sure) a lot of people reading this, I have a long history with The Room. I believe I first saw it with friends on the big screen around ‘08-’09, and it’s been one of those go-to “watch with new friends” movies ever since. I think it’s the perfect gateway “bad” movie; its weirdness is universal enough for both laymen and cinephiles to appreciate. I read The Disaster Artist when it came out, and I was very interested in seeing how James Franco would handle adapting it for the big screen. I worried that his notorious ego might cloud his perspective a bit, that he might be too obsessed with the idea of playing Tommy that he might not have enough distance to properly deconstruct what makes Tommy tick. I worried that, like most biopics, the film would be a series of impressions coupled with a CliffsNotes summary of major events in The Room’s production. Most of all, I worried that I was simply too familiar with the material to see it for the remarkable insanity that it truly is.

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.
Adam: I think the worst thing you can do (and completely unavoidable) is compare The Disaster Artist to Ed Wood, which was a movie where you really felt like you understood its subject by the end. The Disaster Artist is frustrating the moment you start to think about what it’s not instead of what it is. For example, I craved so much for more time with Tommy as he was writing The Room. What was he thinking as he wrote it? I also would have liked more time spent on The Room’s premiere, when the movie belongs to an audience just as much as its author as it's sent out into the world. I agree that The Disaster Artist is a superficial take on the story (amplified even more as I started to read the book this weekend). The second chapter of The Disaster Artist gives much more interesting information about Greg than what is on-screen (to no fault of Dave Franco, who is likeable being Dave Franco in the movie). I’m glad I saw the movie first before reading the book. Maybe the movie would have benefitted from having a less conventional point of view. For example, I’ve read that Greg saw Tommy as a sort of Tom Ripley (from The Talented Mr. Ripley), and I think if The Disaster Artist sort of took that on as a comedic take it could have given the movie more spontaneity.

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.
Adam: Not that it matters, but my guess is that the real-life Tommy Wiseau is putting on an act. I think the James Franco performance (which I really liked) reflects that he’s a pretty shrewd guy. Without his weirdness, Tommy would not have even gotten as far on the Z-list as he did. It’s what sets him apart from the other Z-listers. The moment you mention about him rebranding The Room as a comedy at the premiere (once he sees everyone laughing at it) is an example where I think he sees the temperature of the audience and pivots, realizing he’s better off being in on the joke instead of the butt of it. I think the movie works in a weird way as an underdog story turned upside down. Greg’s is much more the traditional underdog story of someone who was an outsider that got a chance to make a movie. Tommy is like the evil side of that, where someone who’s rich (and is ostensibly an insider at least financially) is given a shot that much more talented, less financially able filmmakers would never have. So in a way, I didn’t read it as a flat inspirational “making it in Hollywood” tale (like other reviews have framed it) but more as a bastardization of that story. I think Tommy (as played by Franco) realizes that if he acts like a big baby for long enough, he’ll get his way because the people around him are often confused by him or just weak in general. The movie felt subversive in that regard, but didn’t take that angle as far as I wanted.

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.
Adam: Yeah, I don’t want to be too hard on it because it’s a comedy that’s funny, which almost never happens anymore. It’s just a 3 star movie and not the 4 star movie I wanted it to be. I laughed hard at a lot of moments like Zac Efron’s take on Chris R, Franco, Wiseau saying “Just deauuuuu it” when he’s coaxing Franco/Sestero into acting out a scene in a diner, how Franco will just say “Yeah, I have a place in Los Angeles. C’mon let’s goooo!” like as if he was just saying he has gum, the post-credit scene was super weird and funny too. I won’t spoil it, but just wanted to point it out so people reading this stay through the end credits. Oh yeah! Franco calling Malcolm in the Middle “Little Malcolm” made me laugh. Or any time he corrected someone by saying “for your information.” It’s funny that the comedic scene that goes on way too long is the one with Judd Apatow’s cameo because he seems to have no idea when to end a scene even when it’s not his own movie.

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.


  1. I'm a big fan of The Room and book The Disaster Artist, and I really loved this movie. I've seen it twice, just to be sure, and I think I enjoyed it even more the second time.

    I agree that it doesn't delve as deep into either character as much as it could have, but it honestly didn't bother me. I feel like I know as much about Greg and Tommy as I can after reading The Disaster Artist, so I was content to just let the movie work on me.

    I think it's hands-down the funniest movie I've seen all year, and I actually really liked the bookends, which I think will help people who have never seen The Room get on board. There were some people behind us who were talking during the end credits about how they can't believe The Room is a real movie and need to watch it as soon as possible.

    That made me love this movie and The Room even more.

    1. I'm so glad it worked for you! I can definitely see that argument in regards to the bumpers, which is one of the reasons why I sort of blame myself for my frustration with it. I can definitely see how it's intended to sell the reality of the story to those totally unaware of The Room.

  2. Most reviews are loosing their minds over this movie. Then, you guys, and the good folks at Red Letter Media gave it a somewhat middle-of-the-road review. Now i don’t feel an urgency of watching it. I’ll rewatch The Room instead