James and Dave Franco step into ‘The Room’, with a behind the scenes look at arguably the most infamously bad film of all time. Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s cult–classic disaster piece ‘The Room’ (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), ‘The Disaster Artist’ depicts the meeting and early friendship of Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The duo of aspiring actors are shunned by everyone in Hollywood, until it becomes apparent that if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. The actors set out to pen and helm a film called ‘The Room’, a film often hailed as the Citizen Kane of bad movies, but the troubles making it, as well as the cost of fame, good or bad, afterwards is only the start of the dream for notoriety that comes with quite a steep price tag. ‘The Disaster Artist’ is directed by James Franco, and is rated R for adult language throughout, as well as some sexuality involving nudity.
It would’ve been easy enough for James Franco and his crew of long-standing friendships to simply use ‘The Disaster Artist’ as nothing more than a reason to imitate the most notoriously bad film of all time, but the surprisingly poignant approach to telling this story won me over completely and gave me back that ounce of dignity for him that I have lost in some questionable career decisions prior. It’s clear that Franco has definitely done his homework on this story and production, mimicking ‘The Room’ in such a way that feels like this film closes the gap seamlessly of the more than fourteen years that has passed since its infamous debut screening in Los Angeles. Considering we know so little about Wiseau or even aspects surrounding his screenplay, the film attacks this uncertainty in a way that gives us an undefined perspective in offering some subtle suggestions to further enhance our creativity in filling in the lines. This not only caters to new generations of fans who are somehow embracing ‘The Room’ folklore for the first time, but also gives back to those faithful worshippers of Wiseau looking for the next chapter in this storied career, and it turns out that it comes from exploring the past once more.
The screenplay that is co-written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber offers a healthy dissection of Hollywood logic that comes with creating fame. This is certainly no love letter to the city of angels, and instead depicts the brutal and unforgiving nature that comes with rejection of the silver screen in its cruelest form. It’s in this angle that crafts Wiseau and Sestaro as the ultimate underdog story, inspiring them not to live by someone else’s definition of fame, and instead blazing their own respective trail to the eyes of the world. Because of this, the film does beg the question of just what the cost of such universal praise is, and is any kind of fame worth it in the long run when so much of your heart and soul is invested in your work? Beyond this, it’s a story first and foremost about friendship, and how the unlikely pairing of two complete strangers balances out what the other needs, under an almost romanticized lighting. Greg is the guy who is all talk and no walk, and Wiseau is the complete opposite. So Tommy inspires Greg to finally attack his dreams with no regrets, and it’s in that fearless attitude where we understand how easy it is for Greg, as well as us, to fall under Wiseau’s mumbling spell. In Greg, Tommy’s poking loneliness is reduced dramatically, giving our leading character a feeling of belonging for what feels like the first time ever in his life.
Much of the look and feel of the production feels authentic to what they are covering from the low quality original film, even if some aspects stick out like sore thumbs to dedicated fans like myself who can’t easily turn a blind eye. If Franco is going for authenticity, there are a few things that misses the boat tremendously and drops the ball in garnering the greatest reaction in terms of laughs from his audience. The set pieces are mostly reflective to that of the green-screen work that adorned ‘The Room’ endlessly, but there are a couple of scenes (mainly Denny’s famous gun scene with Chris) where the green-screen is nowhere to be found, and this is a big mistake considering the scene takes place on the rooftop where the majority of that effect is displayed. Besides this, the biggest problem that I had was in the absence of A.D.R from the film that was the single biggest reason that I laughed in ‘The Room’. To play these scenes audibly in live action form is a huge mistake, and I feel like a ball dropped by Franco who up until this point felt like an extra on the original production for how tightly he nailed everything.
As a director, it’s clear that Franco is definitely getting better, as there’s nothing of extreme distaste here, but his limited style can sometimes feel like more emphasis was taken with his on-screen performance. I feel like Franco was the wrong person to direct this film because too many camera angles and sequences feel foreign in terms of consistency to the fluidity of the 98 minute entirety. For some scenes, we get a handheld look that gives us that impression of being a member of the set, but the scenes of Tommy and Greg alone are illustrated with a traditional quality of angles that honestly doesn’t stick around long enough to warrant its effect. Also, the lack of focus particularly on the romance of Greg and his girlfriend feels like it comes and goes without much weight to the overall bigger picture of the story. What Franco does do well as a director is in sturdy framing work that proves he at least knows where to aim the camera at all times. Particularly that of the bar scene where Greg meets his future girlfriend is one that presents plenty of focus on the foreground, while playing carefully into what is transpiring with Tommy beyond them. This is unquestionably Franco’s biggest growth to date as a filmmaker, but the overwhelming balance in trying to match the work he did as an actor here, proves to be too much, and leaves James work as a director inferior to serving his greater master.
On that account, Franco transforms himself wonderfully as Wiseau, and hints that no one else could play this character with such respect and conviction. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything truly demanding of what James is doing in taking on Tommy here, but with closer focus you will soon see an actor’s craft at heart. In keeping the consistency and vocal range of Wiseau well in hand at all times, Franco immerses himself and eases the suspension of disbelief in a matter of minutes once he is on screen. The best kind of adaptions of real life figures are the ones that never feel like an impression, allowing you to forget that you aren’t watching the real thing. In addition to this, once the laughter settles down from Wiseau’s larger-than-life personality, you start to feel great empathy for his portrayal because this is a man who doesn’t know the world isn’t laughing at him, instead of with him. Besides James, brother Dave also wows as Greg, a wannabe actor who confronts fear in every opportunity he’s ever given. Dave visually captures Greg’s likeness without much prop work, but its his childlike innocence that offers the ideal counterbalance to his brother, and reminds us that there is no substitute in chemistry for blood-born kin.
THE VERDICT – As to where ‘The Room’ was so bad that it’s good, ‘The Disaster Artist’ abides by a higher standard, depicting the former with enough respect and dignity that values Tommy’s rise above just playing dress-up. Franco’s directing leaves slightly more to be desired in creativity, but he makes up for it with a lead performance as Tommy that allows pretty boy James to get lost audibly and visually in the cellar of Wiseau with his widest range of performance to date. Most importantly, it gives fans another reason to open the door once more into this room and indulge in what made it a lightning in a bottle offering to begin with.