The Disaster Artist is a film based on the book by the same title (review forthcoming) by Greg Sestero, who was one of the lead actors as well as the Line Director for the so-bad-its-good film “The Room.” Although I have yet to see “The Room,” I must admit that I have some fascination with it from the clips I have seen as well as the meme-worthy dialogue from that film that I have come across over the years. As a connoisseur of bad art , I must say that I found much to enjoy here. This is a film about the darker side of Hollywood, where decent people find themselves making horrible films in sweatshop conditions for something that will either be entirely forgotten or will mark them for all time as having been involved with a horrible film. In this film, in fact, there is a funny line from one of the characters asking if the film goes badly can it be removed from one’s IMDB record, which struck me as just the right note one would want to take with this sort of film. The short answer, of course, is no. IMDB is like that permanent record children are so afraid of, capturing every reality show and every bad film in some stage of production so that you are known for your work for good.
Although I enjoyed this film, I thought it was not quite as good as the book. This is a cliche for a reason, as the movie telescopes a few interesting aspects of the book that would have been nice to see, such as Greg’s success as a bit actor and in a film that took place in Romania, or the way that Greg’s family responded to “The Room” as a foreshadowing of the laughter that would result from repeated viewings of the film over the years. The film also telescopes the gradual reply of Tommy Wiseau from hurt over the ridicule and lack of initial success for the film to his adoption of a false narrative to claim that he always meant it as a joke, and the crew turnover in the making of “The Room,” which included three directors of photography according to Sestero’s work. This film does its best to make Wiseau into a sympathetic figure, but it is not entirely successful, for reasons I will get into below. This is the sort of movie that one will appreciate for a variety of reasons. Its source material is so solid that even an incompetent filmmaker could make a worthwhile film out of it, as might have been the case here (more on that later as well). The film shows a seedy side of Hollywood that is entertaining to watch, and the dialogue is pretty funny as well. The characters are likable, for the most part, and certainly relatable even if one hasn’t seen “The Room” as was the case for me.
Even though I enjoyed this film, I have to admit there was a lot about this film that made me uncomfortable. There is definitely a creepy subterranean homoerotic vibe going on in the relationship between Tommy and Greg in this film, and given that the actors who play these two characters are brothers (James and Dave Franco), it added layers of awkwardness and cringiness to the portrayal. When one sees Tommy act jealous of the attention he gets from his girlfriend Amber and one listens to the Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up” at a particularly poignant scene, and one hears the skepticism of Greg’s mother over Greg being called “babyface” by the vastly older Tommy, who is in constant denial about his age, one gets several layers of discomfort. One feels a high degree of concern and sympathy for the actress who plays Lisa being forced to endure cringy sex scenes with Tommy, and finds Tommy’s conduct in general to be abusive–he lambasts Lisa for having moles right before they are to enact a love scene, films the making of “The Room” as a way of keeping tabs on cast and crew discontent, fails to provide water for the cast leading to considerable discomfort, and generally acts like a lout, making the film’s attempt to view him as sympathetic as more than a little bit disingenuous. This film, despite its efforts at softening its portrayal of Wiseau, shows that outsider directors and no better than insider ones at respecting the dignity of their cast and crew, and that part of the appeal of making a film is the power that filmmakers have over others, something that ought to make would be stars and especially starlets uncomfortable.
Probably a large part of the appeal for me was how meta this film was. There are a lot of aspects about this film that demolish the fourth wall between the film and the audience. Among the most obvious is a post-credits scene that is worth waiting for, as well as the numerous and sometimes distracting celebrity cameos that fill this film. At several times, for example, there are comparisons made between the original movie and this adaptation that show the match to be a pretty close one, except this film has way better audio and the actors and actresses are better looking here and less normal looking as was the case with the originals. Among the more poignant areas of metafiction that are evident here is that just as “The Room” was a misguided passion project for Tommy Wiseau, who was not competent as a writer, actor, or director, so too this film was a passion product for James Franco, who shows himself being not a particularly competent director either. At least he goes all-in as an actor, where he should probably stay from here on out. This film is more Wiseau than it lets on, and may even be the more entertaining for that, for its lack of self-awareness even as it seeks to be aware about an outsider director whose lack of self-awareness is legendary. There are layers of irony here on top of each other, and that is part of the thrill of this worthwhile but unsettling film.
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