A fictionalized retelling of the production of the worst movie ever made.
Directed by James Franco
Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, and Alison Brie
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
The film splits evenly between this prologue and the production of The Room, which is shown to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions from the start. The film bubbles over with details so absurd that they must be true. Tommy has to have his own, worse bathroom separate from the regular bathrooms. Two camera formats because shut up, that’s why. Sets built instead of locations used because this is a real Hollywood movie, dammit. Tommy laughs when told a chilling story of a woman being beaten to death because human behavior. Franco and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber show all the many ways that Tommy is a horrible boss, to say nothing of his nonexistent directing and acting skills. He’s a Trumpian figure who demands loyalty without earning it, who revels in how little he knows and dares his underlings to call him on it, who does everything for the sake of his own vanity. That kind of character at the center makes the Disaster Artist a fitting film for this moment of sneering at expertise, minimal self-reflection, and fame being its own reward.
Appropriately for how it’s cast, The Disaster Artist is most concerned with the relationship between the two surrogate brothers of Tommy and Greg. James is doing a fine impression, Dave is appropriately earnest and good-natured, and they have a lived-in chemistry with each other. However, the friendship itself is built on such flimsy ground. The big blow-up between them is both long overdue and not intense enough. Tommy is as much of a mystery in the film as he is in real life, outside of his neediness and pathetic loneliness. Pathos can’t be had without honesty, and Tommy’s not an honest person. Greg is written as too dumb to function. He’s nowhere near as despicable as Tommy, but his stupidity makes it difficult to like him. From the right angle, it’s reasonable that Greg would go with this insane person to a new city and live in his apartment. There’s no way he could read the script for The Room and praise it. Dave plays that reaction as earnest, and it’s just impossible. This moment, where he doesn’t even have notes, is a scarlet letter upon him that I don’t think the character recovers from and therefore robs the film of any investment in the Tommy and Greg pairing.
Around the Francos are a deep ensemble of most of the working comic actors in LA, and such a group can’t really miss. The best part of the Disaster Artist is the cast’s growing exasperation with him, led by Seth Rogen’s Sandy Schklair. His snarky asides have a 100% hit rate, while Paul Scheer’s Raphael Smadja gets to unload on Tommy in righteous fury. Ari Graynor instills a surprising amount of pathos in her performance as the actor who plays Lisa, a woman barely keeping it together as she realizes that no, this isn’t going to be her big break after all. Jason Mantzoukas and Hannibal Burress are great as the shocked proprietors of an equipment rental facility, one of many who might feel bad swindling anyone other than Tommy. Alison Brie, as Greg’s girlfriend, is treated eminently fair, avoiding the easy territory of scold. Zac Efron is really going for it as Chris R, and every appearance of Josh Hutcherson as Denny gets a laugh. All the crazy anecdotes from Greg’s titular book, combined with this cast, would easily make an interesting film, but, possibly due to the necessities of getting rights, Tommy has to have some kind of hero moment or redemption and the film is the worse for it.
At the actual premiere of The Room, per Greg himself, people walked out at the first sign of Tommy’s weathered ass pounding into poor Lisa’s belly button, and the whole thing was tremendous failure. The Disaster Artist, so keen on reproducing unique details when there are laughs to be had, wants to leave the viewer with a good feeling, so the film gets a standing ovation and Tommy gets to immediately rebrand his film as a comedy and everything’s great. He might be a vulture who insists that The Room is as bad as it is as a funny joke, but if that was the case, he’d have made something else of equal value by now. To repeat, there’s pleasure to be had from The Room because it’s pleasurable to watch someone deserving of failure have it dropped on his doorstep. The Disaster Artist, made by people at the top of their careers, wants everyone to know that your dreams are possible if you have a huge supply of money and don’t care about precedent or experience or hard-won knowledge and just fart something terrible out there. Who cares about quality when there’s passion? That is a stance I am diametrically opposed to, and to see it used in connection with Tommy Wiseau of all people is offensive to me. The Disaster Artist makes me laugh and seethe in equal measure. This film definitely has cancer. C-