The Disaster Artist

The elephant in the room (no pun intended) will be addressed first — do you have to see the movie The Room, which this film is based on, before watching this? No, you don’t. I never saw The Room, just as I never saw Plan 9 from Outer Space before I saw Ed Wood. As long as you realize it’s a movie about the filmmakers who made these awful pictures, you’re all good. Now, the “fans” of The Room will surely enjoy the experience a bit more.

Here’s a brief backstory on the 2003 cult hit The Room. A wannabe actor named Tommy Wiseau, couldn’t find work in the industry. So he decided to finance his own movie. He wrote a script that made no sense. He starred in it, despite having no ability as an actor. And it became a cult hit because people wanted to watch what was obviously, one of the worst movies ever made. It’s often called the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.”

Wiseau paid for billboards in L.A. advertising the movie (the billboards stayed up for 3 years; take that lady from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). He had apartments in L.A. and San Francisco, drove a brand new Mercedes Benz, and there was an endless amount of money. Reports are, the budget for his indie movie was well over $6 million. Nobody knows where the money came from. In fact, nobody knows where he came from. He has an accent, and the speculation is Poland. Yet he tells everyone he’s from New Orleans. He also lies about his age.

The biggest problem this movie has is that we never really learn much about the mind or soul of the man that created this. I’m sure James Franco (the director and star) would say that’s what he wanted, and since nobody knows about Wiseau, it would be impossible anyway. That’s true, but it makes the experience of watching this a lot less enjoyable. Things just start to get repetitive. It’s kind of like the first time I saw Andy Kaufman do the routine where he pretended to be a foreigner trying his hand at stand-up comedy and bombing with bad jokes. Finding out that was the joke, made it funny. He was tricking the audience. Yet if you watched him do it a second time, it wouldn’t be amusing. Add to that, the fact that Wiseau isn’t doing this on purpose. He’s just a clueless dope. Sure, we can watch Spinal Tap and laugh at their cluelessness, but they were fictional characters (and they were a lot funnier).

This film wants us to do what the filmmakers of Florence Foster Jenkins did. Laugh at this fool in the beginning, but then feel sorry for them in the second half of the movie. I don’t think you get to have it both ways. We don’t laugh at him, then embrace him. At least I didn’t. Now, had he been shown as a more complicated character, we could feel bad for a guy that is probably lonely, and looking for friends. Even if they are just bad actors from his acting class. That person would be Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who flubs his lines from Waiting for Godot at an acting class. When Wiseau jumps on stage and starts screaming “Stella!” and writhing around the floor like a drunk Jim Morrison — Sestero is intrigued. When he finds out Wiseau has a place to live in L.A. and they can try to make it in acting (on Wiseau’s dime), he’s on board.

Sestero has a bit more luck at landing auditions. He’s a former model, and one agent (Sharon Stone) signs him up. Another successful actor (Bryan Cranston, playing himself), offers him a part on Malcolm in the Middle. Even in love, he’s more successful. All of this bothers Wiseau, but not enough to not bring Sestero in on the film he just wrote called The Room.

You start to wonder why Sestero never questions things we’d be questioning (like why Wiseau is rude to Sestero’s girlfriend Amber, played by Alison Brie, as if he’s a jealous 15-year-old girl).

A lot of big name actors are involved in this film. Seth Rogen, one of the producers, plays a script supervisor, who has a few funny zingers as he comments on all the chaos on set.

There’s Jacki Weaver, playing the woman in The Room that had a line about dying from breast cancer, and who is never seen or heard from again. For those that didn’t see The Room, one of the many problems were characters that had no relation to anything else in the movie, and would never be heard from after their one scene.

You’ll also see Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, Nathan Fielder, Paul Scheer, Zoey Deutch, and Hannibal Buress.

The book The Disaster Artist was written by Sestero, and the screenplay written by the team that wrote the clever 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now. It’s a shame that they (or Franco) didn’t want to delve into some of the psychology of this guy. As an actor, his reaction is to laugh when he hears about a woman who was beaten up. He’s a guy that sometimes seems so hurt by what people are saying about him, but a few minutes later, says something hurtful himself to an actress on set. He’s a person that’s so clueless, he doesn’t even know how to talk to the Sestero’s mom (Megan Mullally) when she expresses concerns about what her son is about to embark on.

The documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, comes to mind when I think about this movie. It started the same way. Instead of real actors talking about The Room, Anvil had real musicians (Slash, Ozzy) talking about this real heavy metal band. Nothing ever went right for them, and the documentary follows the group around. Yet we start to know them as people, and we kind of like them. Even if they may be dim, or sexist at times; or their songs not that good (the highlight of one being a guitar solo that’s played with a dildo for a bottleneck).

Yet in this movie, Wiseau never garners our sympathies. He’s somebody you wouldn’t want to be around. He’s delusional, mean, and narcissistic. He has a fake laugh, he intimidates everyone around him, and his biggest talent seems to be that he can finance anything he wants to do.

Yet despite the repetitive nature of the picture, and all my problems with it, my wife and I were never bored. We were fascinated watching this wacko, and it made for an entertaining movie.

James Franco is terrific in the part, although I could easily see Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage, and a number of other actors pulling it off as well.

3 stars out of 5.