What is art? Can it be defined? These were questions that were asked of us in the first week at film school. Could Hitchcock or Kubrick or Coppola or Scott or Tarantino have produced such glorious masterpieces without the influence of those who came before them?
Another question that was asked of us was: Can you really say if a movie is good or bad? Surely it’s a matter of opinion. Well you can argue the finer points of objectivity and subjectivity and what constitutes good or bad, or you could simply watch Tommy Wiseau’s movie the Room and make the decision that there is definitely such a thing as a bad film.
Inevitably, the story about how this bizarre piece of cinema came into being had to be told. Thus, the Disaster Artist was made. But before I talk about the film, let me give you some back story. This is by no means comprehensive because if I were to talk about the Room at length, this review would go on for many, many pages…
Called ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies’, the Room was a strange enigma that appeared in 2003 and joined the ranks of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Trolls 2 and Birdemic (though Birdemic was actually released after the Room).
The Room screened for 5 weeks in select cinemas in California, making a mere $1800. The only reason that it stayed on screens for so long was because the films writer, director, producer and main star, Tommy Wiseau, paid for it to remain there. After a while, the film managed to, by word of mouth, become a cult classic. People started attending screenings multiple times a week, not to enjoy a cinematic masterpiece as they did with Psycho or Star Wars, but to enjoy the utter catastrophe that it was. Riddled with continuity errors, bad acting, plotlines that vanish without another mention, dialogue that makes no sense, the Room is enjoyable for the sole reason that it is so cataclysmically bad and watching it is an experience in itself. Subsequently, a book was written by Greg Sestero, producer, actor and friend of Wiseau. The book was called the Disaster Artist and published in 2013. It wasn’t long before it was picked up for a film adaptation.
Produced and directed by James Franco, the Disaster Artist is a sensitive retelling of the strange production of the Room and the experiences of the cast and crew. I say ‘sensitive’ because it in no way makes fun of anybody. Wiseau, as a human being, is an enigma. He speaks with a strange accent which sounds vaguely eastern European, even though he claims to have no accent and that he is from New Orleans, neither statement has ever been believed by anyone. No one in the world has any idea how old he is as he often claims to be the same age as Sestero, who appears to be at least ten years younger than Wiseau. Decisions made on set were made seemingly arbitrary, spontaneous and made sense to him and only him. The entire production of the Room was paid for exclusively by Wiseau. The total costs of the film were kept confidential but estimates place the production at over six million. A lot of this cost was completely avoidable as they would often shoot scenes on sets where they could have easily, and at much less cost, shot the scenes on location. An example being a set of an alleyway, identical to the actual alleyway right outside the studio where they were shooting. Where the money came from, no one, to this day, has any clue.
Being such an unfathomable character, it’s difficult to portray Wiseau without parodying or making fun but this is exactly what the Disaster Artist does. To me, the film seems honest in portraying the director with all his idiosyncrasies, the good and the bad. I found that I sympathised with Wiseau deeply. Here is one of the weirdos of the world. One of the freaks of nature who doesn’t fit in with even our loosest standards of how to behave in society. He desperately wants to act and be a filmmaker but he lives in a world so unique to himself that he has no friends (except Sestero) or success (save the untold millions he seems to have). And in Sestero, he finds comradeship and understanding. I don’t know how the friendship went in reality (the two are still good friends) but in this film I saw an ancient tale of needing to belong and to be accepted.
However it’s hard to love someone when they can’t remember the lines that they themselves wrote, subject the cast and crew to unworkable conditions and just doesn’t seem to make any sort of sense on any level. James Franco however, portrays the eponymous filmmaker with such perfection that I didn’t see him at all. The entire film I only saw Tommy Wiseau. I’m not a big fan of Franco’s comedic films. I found Pineapple Express and This is the End to be stupid to and good for only cheap laughs. But where he shines, I believe, is in his serious roles. I always look forward to seeing a film when Franco is playing a serious character and after seeing him in the Disaster Artist, I believe this may be one of his finest performances yet.
This film is told through the eyes of Greg Sestero, which is fitting as it’s an adaptation of the book that he wrote. Perhaps that is why the story is so forgiving to Wiseau. Were the film told through the eyes of Juliette Danielle, who portrayed Lisa, the love interest of Wiseau’s character Tommy, or Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor, it would no doubt have been harsher.
As a comedic drama, there isn’t any point too heavy or dark. In fact, I found the film to be quite inspiring. Wiseau is the Underdog to end all Underdogs. But he succeeded in a way that perhaps no one has ever succeeded in cinema before or ever will again. I certainly hope he is never forgotten because the Room is such a hilarious occurrence in our worlds history that I think it needs to be remembered and the Disaster Artist has done such a wonderful job at chronicling that. In fact, it almost feels like a companion piece, one you could watch with the Room as a double-feature. Franco’s production is a wonderful story about an unfathomable human being finding belonging in a kindred spirit, making a masterful train-wreck of a film and becoming a legend. It is a kind and honest retelling the story of Tommy Wiseau and his film the Room. Go see it and remember when you’re watching it: All of this actually happened.