“… it felt as though everyone was pointing and laughing at The Room simply because it is the cool thing to do.”
In preparation for the film’s release tomorrow, today I finished reading The Disaster Artist: a look at the production of The Room through the eyes of the co-star and long time friend of Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero. So much like other reviews of this nature I’m going to be splitting it up into two parts: my thoughts on the book, and my thoughts on the movie. With that being said, let’s get into it.
Now I want to start by saying that I absolutely loved reading The Disaster Artist. I found the story to not only be engaging, but also really fucking entertaining. But before I get into praising The Disaster Artist there is something I want to address. Now I’m not super familiar with Greg Sestero, but from everything I’ve heard people claim that he isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box. I know that’s fucked up to say about someone I haven’t met, but it seems to be the general consensus. The Disaster Artist was co-written by Tom Bissell, but going off of this previous knowledge I would say that it is fairly safe to say that he did the lion’s share of the work. I don’t want to shit on Greg Sestero, but everything I’ve seen about the guy doesn’t exactly point to him being able to write a story this good, this polished, all by himself. So what I assume happened is that Greg provided the broad strokes, and Tom Bissell (who is very talented) went in and made the story entertaining.
All of that aside, I really did love reading through The Disaster Artist. The beginning of the book was so gripping that I couldn’t put it down. the experiences related by Sestero were so outlandish and hilarious, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Of course most of the book revolves around Sestero’s relationship with Tommy Wiseau, an eccentric man to say the least, and I was constantly being blown away with how ridiculous some of the dialogue or scenarios in the book were. So The Disaster Artist was essentially split up into three parts: Greg’s relationship with Tommy before The Room, Greg’s life before The Room, and a behind-the-scenes look at what the production of The Room was really like. Now I absolutely loved 2 out of the three portions that I mentioned. First of all, like I mentioned, it was great to hear about candid moments of Tommy being Tommy. Now it’s impossible to say whether or not these moments were completely true (we’ll get into that later), but they were entertaining nonetheless. This only compounds when you get Tommy in his creative element during the production of The Room. Now these moments were definitely why people wanted to read The Disaster Artist; the curiosity surrounding Tommy Wiseau is too much to look away from. And what I liked is that The Disaster Artist didn’t just give us the funny moments, but also the darker and more heartfelt moments that really paint Tommy as a real person. The sequence in the book where Tommy goes on hiatus while writing The Room is actually really heartbreaking. But there is one problem that comes up: after a while all of this stuff gets kind of same-y. The funny parts aren’t as funny and the emotional parts aren’t as emotional. The beginning of this book is so unique, but then it essentially sticks to the same routine for its entirety and that gag runs its course rather quickly. Now this isn’t exactly the fault of the book because it is based on real life, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.
Something that isn’t as excusable is the recounting of Greg’s early career that takes up larger portions of the book as the story moves along. Nothing against the guy, but Tommy Wiseau is really the reason that I’m reading this book. It’s cool that you’ve had a pretty interesting life, but if Tommy doesn’t play a direct role in the story you’re telling, I don’t really care. And this is the other thing I wanted to bring up as well: It felt to me as though Greg Sestero was trying to distance himself from Tommy with his writing. Obviously The Room is regarded as a joke; well at least to everyone except for Tommy. And in this book it felt as though Greg Sestero was trying to claim as though he was in on the joke from the beginning. There was talk of him phoning in his performance and rolling his eyes at Tommy’s antics, but the long and short of it is that Greg was just as much a part of this as Tommy was. Once again this brings us back to the whole ‘unreliable narrator’ aspect of the story that may or may not play a role in how this story is being told. A lot of it just felt kind of mean-spirited to me. Like during all of this Greg was supporting Tommy and obeying his every command, but then he talks about it as though Tommy is an idiot and everything he was doing was for the laughs. Can you imagine how you would feel if someone you thought was your friend wrote shit like this about your relationship in the future? It would fuck me up completely. It just felt to me like a lot of this talk wasn’t so much in jest as it was Greg Sestero trying desperately to fit in with “the cool kids” at the first semblance of their willingness to accept him.
So after what feels like years of waiting, The Disaster Artist movie helmed by James Franco has finally been released. Now just as fair warning: my opinions on this movie are pretty complicated. So complicated in fact, that I don’t know that I will be able to effectively convey them to you. With that being said, let’s give it a shot. So The Disaster Artist is a movie based on the true events that were presented in the book of the same name. And by ‘based on true events’ I mean both feature men named Tommy and Greg working on a film called The Room. That’s about where the similarities stop. Everything in The Disaster Artist is truncated and altered to the point of it being unrecognizable. What really bothered my about The Disaster Artist was that it didn’t feel genuine. It didn’t feel like James Franco read or heard about the story of The Room and went “Wow, that would make a great movie”; it felt like he heard about how much people love to hate the room and went “Wow, a movie riding on those coattails would be successful”. Now I know that is a pretty huge accusation to be throwing around, but that’s exactly what The Disaster Artist felt like to me. Everything down to the celebrity cameos felt rather forced. The movie opens with a slew of celebrities discussing how influential The Room is, and how much of an “auteur” (that’s really the word used) Tommy Wiseau is. Nobody in their right mind thinks these things. The Room is a bad movie. I respect Tommy Wiseau because he had a vision and stuck to it, but I would never call the man a genius. What you see in The Room is what you get; there is nothing past the terrible writing that houses a deeper meaning. And all of these famous people essentially going over how much they love The Room right at the beginning of The Disaster Artist felt so cheap to me. It’s like they couldn’t help but feel that just being mentioned in the same sentence as The Room would give them some kind of industry ‘cred’. And the same can be said for almost every single famous person who is in the movie itself. Some characters were completely changed to fit a celebrity who wanted their finger in the pie. Now you can argue, quite easily in fact, that James Franco is friends with all of these people and he asked from them a favour. I would agree with that, if not for the bullshit testimonials at the beginning. Everything felt so fucking fake. Much like in the book, it felt as though everyone was pointing and laughing at The Room simply because it is the cool thing to do.
With all of that out of the way, let’s discuss some of the changes made in The Disaster Artist. Now I understand that adapting books to movies can be tricky, if only for the time constraints, so I don’t demonize very single change that a movie makes to any story. That being said, the changes have to make sense. The changes in The Disaster Artist didn’t. So right off the bat The Disaster Artist fucked with very fundamental character traits/motivations. First of all, it seemed as though The Disaster Artist was playing to it’s audience very directly; that audience being Greg Sestero. The Disaster Artist follows two people: Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau; and out of those two, the one you want to keep the happiest is the one who is the most lucid (Greg). With that in mind it felt as though James Franco allowed for meddling to be done with the story to paint Greg in a different light. In the book Greg is very much his own person. He hangs out with Tommy, but then kind of distances himself when things start to go awry. In the movie, Greg is not like this at all. Every single thing he does is for Tommy, and this felt like a lie to me. The biggest change in this regard was Greg’s willingness to act in The Room in the first place. In the book, Greg is very apprehensive when Tommy asks him to star in the room, and things even go so far as casting an entirely different actor for Mark. It is only when Tommy offers Greg an obscene amount of money that Greg agrees, and even then it is with reluctance. In the movie, Greg enthusiastically agrees to act in the film immediately after reading the script. This may not seem like a big change, but to me it was huge. This removes not only a giant part of the story, but also paints Greg in a very different light. He goes from being the ‘normal’ guy who is hanging out with a friend, to a man who is almost as delusional as Tommy himself. So with this in mind, it felt as though The Disaster Artist kind of shunned Tommy. Not only in misrepresenting his character, but also really only providing one side of the story. The one change in this regard that bothered me the most was the change that made Tommy Wiseau more of a pushover. In the book Tommy would fight tooth and nail to keep the movie exactly like the script. Nobody could persuade him to do otherwise, and that was a huge point of contention on set. In the movie, Tommy is rather reasonable; and of course compared to his real-life counterpart this makes him seem like a pushover. All it takes is for someone to say “Hey, do it this way” for Tommy to change how he approaches his scene. This removes the entire point of The Room being a difficult shoot. This makes the point that Tommy went through not one, not two, but three different crews before he finished production. None of this makes it into the movie which again makes it seem like the care was more so focused on perception than it was telling the truth.
I also had a few other problems with the changes/decisions made in The Disaster Artist, the first of which manifests itself as the emotional parts in the movie. In the book, there is a brilliant sequence wherein Tommy essentially disappears while writing The Room, and this leaves Greg worried and concerned for Tommy as he seems to not be well. This allows for drama, as well as a glimpse of how much Greg cares for Tommy. In the movie this is never touched upon, and instead substituted for a weird envy of Greg from Tommy. Now this isn’t different from the book necessarily, but it is when you take into account the reason of this envy: Greg’s girlfriend. This addition to me felt so fucking contrived. You had the bones of a wonderful story right there in front of you, and you decide to throw that away for a shitty love story that we’ve seen a thousand times? This was beyond disappointing to me, and once gain showcases the disregard for the truth. I also really disliked the ending the film which featured the premier of The Room. Now I didn’t dislike the fact that The Room didn’t really receive cult-status until later in its lifetime and the film misrepresented this, but what really got me going was how shitty it all felt. During this scene what we get is essentially a fucking terrible RiffTrax wherein all of these famous people get to literally point and laugh at The Room. Once again this felt terribly out of place and a sort of last-ditch plea to the audience that “Hey, we’re in on the joke too! Get it! He says Hi to Mark!”. It’s kind of like your grandmother sending you a meme on facebook, or a teacher using a minion during their class introduction. It just felt wrong. I almost wonder if this was the payment for all of these famous people. James Franco called them up and said: “Listen, I can’t pay you money but if you do this movie you’ll get to be part of a scene wherein you point and laugh at The Room like all of the other cool kids do”. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a little slaty for one reason or another, but this all felt so wrong to me. And the cherry on top of this shit sundae was the apparent flexing by James Franco when they showed the countless shot-for-shot remake scenes of The Room. We get it, when you make a movie about movie you have to reshoot some of the scenes, congratulations. That one probably should have been saved for a Blu-ray extra. And then as if it wasn’t bad enough we got an end-credits sequence featuring Tommy Wiseau himself, which might not have been so bad if I hadn’t already mentally checked-out of this movie. But this brings me to my next point: the performances.
So The Disaster Artist features performances based on real people, which are arguably the hardest performances to perform. First up I want to talk about Dave Franco in his role as Greg Sestero, or should I say Dave Franco. Never in my life did I think that I could dislike a performance more than when I saw Dave Franco take the character of Greg Sestero, and kind of turn him into a bro. And this is difficult because I don’t even know if bros like this existed in the early 2000’s (when this movie takes place). I mean there isn’t really much else to say: Dave Franco did not give a good performance because instead of watching ‘Greg Sestero’ I was watching Dave Franco for 90 minutes. In terms of other actors, really all of the famous actors in the film, I already discussed how a lot of the characters were changed to kind of fit these actors. For instance Paul Scheer plays the original DP on The Room who, in the book, spoke with an accent. Paul Scheer did not. Paul Scheer spoke like Paul Scheer; as did everyone else in the movie. Well, not like Paul Scheer, but like themselves. You get the point. One thing I did find extremely weird was the Bryan Cranston cameo. Now I can only assume that he was in the film because him and James Franco recently did that one Christmas movie together, but either way it was weird. I love Bryan Cranston, but the dude looks old as shit. And this stands out especially when he is supposed to be playing the‘Malcom in the Middle’-era Bryan Cranston. Either the makeup on that show was spectacular, or this was yet another pointless cameo that perfectly showcases how little care went into the production of this movie. But really the only performance that matters, the one that will be talked about for a long time, is James Franco’s Tommy Wiseau. And you probably won’t be surprised to hear me say: I wasn’t that much of a fan. Throughout the film James Franco does a pretty good job of getting Tommy’s speech patterns correct. Sure there are some discrepancies when it comes to his appearance, but overall it was a passable performance. But to me there was always something missing. It wasn’t until I saw the side-by-side comparisons of The Disaster Artist and The Room that I realized the problem. As Tommy Wiseau would say: there was no emotion. Throughout the film it is painfully apparent that James Franco is trying really hard to nail this impression. This means that there is absolutely no emotion in his speech, nor in his face. It’s fucking crazy to me that I can say, with complete sincerity, that Tommy Wiseau delivered a better performance in The Room than James Franco did as Tommy Wiseau in The Room. Sure Franco had more moments of actual emotion throughout the film, but when he was being Tommy it was pretty wooden. Now that being said I did like that James Franco had some fun with the role of Tommy Wiseau, kind of taking sayings and mannerisms and making them his own. Now I wouldn’t disagree with anyone saying that James Franco’s performance was the best one in The Disaster Artist, but to me that’s not saying a whole lot.
Now with all of this shit-talking out of the way it’s safe to say that I hated The Disaster Artist, right? Well, not exactly. See this is where those complicated emotions come in. I do admit that, when compared to the book and the general feel of The Room, The Disaster Artist is a steaming pile of shit. But, if you can get past those two things it’s actually a pretty enjoyable experience. I actually wouldn’t mind going back to see it now that this review is out of the way so I can give it a fair shake. I now know what I’m getting when I go to see The Disaster Artist, and it isn’t a faithful retelling of the production of the worst movie ever made; it’s more akin to a bunch of friends having fun while making fun of a dumb movie. If you look at everything through this lens, The Disaster Artist is almost perfect. The performances are great, the story makes sense, the character changes are fitting; everything falls into place. And to top this all off, the soundtrack was fucking killer. So I think me disliking The Disaster Artist is more a case of misplaced expectations, rather than a bad movie. I should have known that Franco, Rogen, Goldberg, and all of those guys can’t really take shit seriously; but I assumed that the story was outlandish enough on its on for them to let it do its own thing. I was obviously mistaken.
So I guess the main takeaway from this obnoxious long piece would be: If you like/ love to hate The Room, you should read The Disaster Artist. If you loved reading through The Disaster Artist, you should watch The Disaster Artist but keep in mind that it is firmly its own thing. And if you like comedies and/or Seth Rogen movies, you should definitely watch The Disaster Artist because it was a pretty entertaining time.