The Disaster Artist
|Writer(s)||Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber|
|Release Date||December 8, 2017|
The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring James Franco, is an adaptation of 2013’s non-fiction book of the same name, written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, which was itself an account of the bizarre circumstances surrounding the making of The Room.
What’s The Room?
This film probably isn’t for you.
Okay… but seriously, what is it?
The Room is a hilariously self-indulgent independently-produced relationship drama from 2003. It is very, very bad. So bad, in fact, that it has since become a cult classic. There are two reasons. The first is that it’s terrible – but to an extent that’s unfathomable. We’re talking “how can any human being have thought this was a good idea?” levels of badness. The second, more compelling reason for the film’s unique appeal is its director, writer, producer, financier and star, Tommy Wiseau, who I suspect might be an alien.
To this day, nobody knows where Tommy comes from. Or how old he is. And especially not where he got the apparently limitless supply of money that he used to self-produce the film. (It cost somewhere in the region of $6,000,000 to make, and returned $1800 in its opening weekend.) The weird cultural fascination surrounding The Room is probably as much to do with this odd, enigmatic figure as it is the film itself being an unprecedented artistic catastrophe.
And The Disaster Artist is about making that film?
More or less. The book was co-written by Greg Sestero, who played Mark in The Room, so he’s our nominal point-of-view character here. Dave Franco plays him, and his big brother James plays Tommy. The two share an actorly dream to star in big Hollywood movies, so when they randomly meet and form a strange, faintly transactional friendship, they move out to L.A. to pursue careers in the movies.
This doesn’t go well. Greg is a good-looking fella but not much of an actor; Tommy is a maniac. When it becomes clear they’re not going to land any parts of significance, they agree to make their own movie based on Tommy’s original script. The whole thing proves a calamity. Tommy has enough capital to brute-force his way through the production, but his outlandish personality makes it a nightmare and everyone – including Greg – steadily comes to despise him and the project.
So… that’s it?
Yep. Which is fine for fans of The Room, but I can’t see how it’d appeal to anyone else. The film’s funny, sure, but it’s mostly funny because it reinforces that film’s mystique. It has no interest in saying anything more substantial about Tommy, or even his drive to create. To this day nobody has been able to properly unpack him. The Disaster Artist doesn’t attempt to beyond hinting at a deeply needy and insecure psychology. Which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has seen The Room, because it’s pretty much a feature-length depiction of one man’s manic excess.
As such, the point of The Disaster Artist, such as there is one, is to congratulate The Room’s fandom for simply being fans of The Room. The big third act validating moment is the cast and crew seeing an audience watch the film amid hysterics and rapturous applause. Yes, they’re laughing at the film. But they’re still legitimately enjoying it, which is all The Disaster Artist really needs to give the midnight-movie “cool kid” hipster cinephiles a great big tug on the ****.
It sounds like you didn’t enjoy it.
I loved it. But that doesn’t change its specific intention to be a self-congratulatory ironic endorsement of a very specific group of people. It isn’t a criticism that the film isn’t aimed at those who’re unfamiliar with The Room – it’s entirely the point.
Is James Franco as good as people say?
He’s certainly the centrepiece, and his take on Tommy is ******* uncanny. This is especially noticeable during the final credits, when side-by-side takes show how accurately they were able to recreate scenes from The Room itself. Of course, that’s also when you realise that the entire reason they made the movie was to do that. And because there’s not really a coherent narrative throughline or any real depth to the depiction of Tommy, Franco’s performance, as good as it is, is less of a fully-realized, three-dimensional characterisation than an incredibly well-observed impression.
Does he deserve the Best Actor Oscar?
I can’t say I’d be furious if he got it, but no, not by my measure.
Is The Disaster Artist worth watching for general audiences?
Almost certainly not. Again, not because it’s bad. But the production backstory is incredibly well-known and has been covered in the book already, and the filming of scenes from The Room is funny… but not as funny as the actual scenes in The Room. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in the recreation of iconic bits, like, “Oh, hi Mark,” and, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” but only if those moments are iconic to you in the first place – in other words, if you’ve already seen The Room.
You know better than I do if this is going to appeal to you. It’s a well-made and affectionate tribute to an object of film history that has received so much backhanded affection that it’s basically a treasured cultural artefact at this point. But beyond that and a deeply committed leading performance, this strikes me as something aimed squarely at a very particular demographic. There’s plenty to enjoy if you’re in that demographic, but a lot less if you’re not.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.