Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the big deal?
The Disaster Artist is a comedic drama biography film released in 2017 and is based on the book of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The film follows the relationship between struggling actor Sestero and enigmatic dreamer Tommy Wiseau, who together produce their own independent movie - The Room - which would go on to be considered one of the worst films of all time. The film stars director James Franco and his brother Dave, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor and Jackie Weaver. Initially released in a limited number of cinemas, the film received a wider release after a positive response from critics including nominations for Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The film would go on to earn just shy of $30 million worldwide, echoing the cult success of The Room itself. The film also features cameos from Sestero and Wiseau themselves.
What's it about?
In 1998, Greg Sestero is attending acting classes in San Francisco while not being fully sure if it's what he wants. After witnessing a bizarre performance given by fellow student Tommy Wiseau, he asks Tommy to show him how to open up fully and express himself which leads to an unlikely friendship between the two. Tommy, an enigmatic individual who refuses to discuss his past, encourages Greg to follow his dreams of becoming an actor and before long, the two of them move to Los Angeles where Tommy has an apartment. Despite his reservations, Greg moves in.
After a number of years unsuccessfully trying to become actors, Greg and Tommy decide to produce a movie of their own. Tommy, the creative force and financier behind The Room, becomes overly ambitious in his role as director while Greg sticks with the project despite the consternation of his girlfriend Amber. Despite having no previous experience of making a movie, Tommy throws himself into the project and becomes determined that nothing should stop his creative vision - including over-worked crew, a script that makes no sense and costly reshoots. Eventually, the film is finished but neither man is prepared for the film's reception.
What's to like?
Having already seen The Room and understanding what a total catastrophe it is, I admit to being intrigued by The Disaster Artist although I'm not sure this is the medium in which to look at the making of such a film. It's unclear whether James Franco, the driving force behind the film, has a genuine love for the subject or whether he's trying to make fun of our deluded heroes. What isn't in doubt is his performance as Wiseau which is worryingly accurate, almost to the point of caricature. His brother Dave is also solid as Sestero, unwittingly following this clearly crazy individual on his very personal quest to conquer Hollywood.
The supporting cast do give an indication of the popularity of The Room as it features cameos from the likes of Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Zac Efron, Judd Apatow, Bryan Cranston and more. But for me, the script is the real star - turning these two lovable losers into classic underdogs, the film expertly recreates some of the film's more memorable scenes and allows the fragile relationship between Greg and Tommy room to breath amid the shambolic production of The Room. I suspect that the drama between them has been exaggerated somewhat (after all, this is entirely based on Sestero's recollection and his point of view) but you can certainly enjoy the more bizarre moments such as the awkward shooting of Wiseau's unnecessary love scene, judging by the disgusted faces of the crew.
- Franco spoke in Wiseau's distinctive European accent throughout the shoot, even directing in Wiseau's unusual use of language. Rogen admitted that he had trouble filming for the first few days because he kept laughing at it although he eventually got used to it.
- The film takes a few liberties with Sestero's book including the fact that they never moved to LA at the same time and Sestero was never offered a part in Malcolm In The Middle by Cranston. Also, Sestero's part was due to be filmed with another actor before Wiseau fired them and hired Greg instead.
- James Franco played James Dean back in 2001. Dean was a huge inspiration to Greg and Tommy, even inspiring the infamous "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" line. When Wiseau learned of this, it convinced him that Franco would be perfectly cast as himself.
What's not to like?
My biggest problem is that it feels as though the film is mocking Wiseau and Sestero, despite portraying them as plucky underdogs who come good in the end. As I have always suspected, Wiseau's ownership of the film comes from calling it a comedy instead of the serious drama he had envisioned - something that was sadly inevitable given the film's reaction. I don't begrudge him his cult success but the film is cherished in an odd way, a film so bad that your only possible response is to laugh at it. Alas, I've never been able to do this with bad movies but I understand why people do. I just can't love a truly bad film in this way.
Sadly, The Disaster Artist isn't as funny as it thinks it is. Its best moments come from the performances of the Franco brothers, the little things that make their roles slightly more believable like the way Wiseau throws a football. Simply recreating the funniest moments from The Room isn't enhancing the awful comedy found in the original film, merely replaying it. If you wanted to laugh at The Room, why not simply watch that instead? Having a bunch of recognisable stars imitate the misguided efforts of amateurs, however well intended, seems a little cruel to me - the likes of Juliette Danielle, Robyn Paris, Carolyn Minnott as well as Sestero and Wiseau themselves were only trying their best to succeed in what is an obviously ruthless, cutthroat business. Having scorn poured on them by those fortunate enough to have had success seems a little off to me.
Should I watch it?
It's a shame that the film will only appeal to viewers who have already seen The Room because The Disaster Artist is a well-performed and well-written account of the chaos behind the self-declared worst film in history. But I can't help question its intentions and meaning as it feels disparaging of people at the bottom of the showbiz ladder, struggling to climb up as they once did. James Franco's performance is astonishing and deserved more recognition than it got but the film doesn't quite work as a comedy for me.
Great For: anyone who has seen The Room (and you have my sympathies), over-confident A-listers, amateur film-makers
Not So Great For: anyone who hasn't seen The Room, Tommy Wiseau, any cast or crew of the film hoping to ignore it on their CV
What else should I watch?
The film-making process has itself been the focus of movies for some time and an increasing number of stories seem to be getting told. From iconic classics like Sunset Boulevard and Singin' In The Rain to more modern efforts like The Artist and La La Land, Hollywood never tires of turning the cameras on itself. Or its stars, for that matter - Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story details Lee's journey from the backstreets of Hong Kong to international megastar while The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers was critically lauded by critics and tells the complicated tale of one of my favourite actors.
I can't help but wonder why The Room generates such positivity when it is, without question, the absolute worst film I have ever seen and probably ever will see. But there are plenty of other crummy movies which fail to generate as much of an impact as this - why not other turkeys like Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever, Catwoman or Speed 2: Cruise Control? Even films designed to be crummy like The Convent or those endless Sharknado movies aren't held in as high a regard as The Room. What gives?
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber*
Release Date (UK)
6th December, 2017
Biography, Comedy, Drama
Academy Award Nomination
Best Adapted Screenplay
© 2018 Benjamin Cox