It’s a shallow cash grab! Shallow! You’re tearing me apart, Franco!
Following any discussion around The Disaster Artist in any way requires context. It is a dramatization of the book written by Greg Sestero that chronicles the making of The Room, a 2003 drama starring Tommy Wiseau and Sestero. The Room is, according to its fans, so totally bafflingly bad that it’s good. There are annual sold-out midnight screenings worldwide where people laugh and revel at its absurdity. The Room is, and I don’t think I’m falling into hyperbole, a genuine cultural phenomenon – phenomenon fueled not only by the movie itself but also the mystery of its chief creative, Tommy Wiseau. Seriously, just Google the dude; a photo is all you need to understand that this man is extra as hell.
Because of its reliance on an appreciation of The Room, The Disaster Artist is a bit of an aberration for me. I can say with certainty that there is an audience for this film – an audience which, I expect, also loves The Room. They’ll be awed by the care taken in recreating sequences from The Room, and they’ll adore James Franco’s transformation into the enigmatic auteur Tommy Wiseau. This is the strongest element of this film: it knows what it is, and it knows that there are enough people in the world who expect nothing more than a big-budget, meme-tastic time to make it profitable.
I, however, am not a fan of The Room, so I went into The Disaster Artist hoping for something more than just inside jokes and careful recreation. I was disappointed; the film generally fails to tell any story worth telling.
The Disaster Artist is almost in awe of itself, amazed that it is even being made, as it almost certainly started as a joke idea from Franco or Rogen that gained traction when they realized it could sell. The main draw of the film is Franco’s performance. He impressively embodies Wiseau’s strangeness and recreates the mysterious accent pretty much perfectly. Technically the protagonist is Greg Sestero, played by James Franco’s brother Dave Franco, but Sestero pales in comparison to the strange charisma of Wiseau.
That’s the problem with The Disaster Artist: Greg Sestero isn’t that interesting, and Tommy Wiseau is too much of an enigma in real life to really allow for any thoughtful or worthwhile characterization. They do attempt some sort of characterization by positioning Wiseau and Sestro as best friends and Hollywood outsiders – the latter of which is dropped within the first act. The friendship between Wiseau and Sestro is technically a focus of the plot, but it follows a predictable path and ultimately feels unattached from the main focus of the film: the making of The Room. This lack of depth is pervasive throughout the entire runtime, much of which is devoted to simply watching Wiseau’s abrasive personality create tension with everyone around him.
The Disaster Artist may be a bad movie. It may be shallow and it may be a cold, hard cash-in on The Room’s cult status, but that doesn’t matter. It is also a supremely competent, almost reverent ode to a strange and baffling film. It is deeply saturated with a love for The Room – an attractive concept for many, I’m sure.