There’s one litmus test that, in my opinion, easily helps separate the casual moviegoers from the cinephiles, and it boils down to one simple question:
“Have you ever watched THE ROOM?”
While the average moviegoer won’t even know what THE ROOM is, the cinephile will, more often than not, burst out laughing at its mere mention. A film known for iconic quotes as, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” and “Oh hi, Mark!” will always elicit such a reaction.
For the uninitiated – THE ROOM is a 2003 film produced, written, directed by, and starring an enigma known as Tommy Wiseau. It’s one of those films that can comfortably fit into the category of “so bad, it’s good.” Upon first viewing it, depending on your tastes, it’s easy to get caught off-guard as to how god awful THE ROOM really is – the acting is atrocious, the script is repetitive, the dialogue is uninspired, and the editing is questionable at best. Even the camerawork is bad, with multiple out-of-focus shots throughout. On a technical level, this is right up there with the worst films ever made. However, in the time since its release, something happened – people started to enjoy those aspects of the film. The dialogue? Hilarious! The repetitive establishing shots? Hysterical! The horrible acting? Amusing! And little by little, its cult following grew. Today, watching THE ROOM is like a rite of passage for anyone wanting to call themselves a cinephile. As awful as the film is on every technical scale imaginable, its campiness and earnestness gives it a charming quality that has captured and continues to capture the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. James Franco’s newest film, THE DISASTER ARTIST, tells the story of how this masterpiece in dreadfulness came to be.
Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco) is a young actor looking to break into the movie business, but his abilities leave much to be desired. As he struggles, he meets a kindred spirit in one of his acting classes – Tommy Wiseau (played by James Franco). Together, they move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams in show business. When L.A. chews them up and spits them out, instead of giving up, they double down on their dreams when Tommy reveals that he has written a script for what he thinks will be the greatest film ever made: THE ROOM.
Based on the book THE DISASTER ARTIST: MY LIFE INSIDE ‘THE ROOM,’ THE GREATEST BAD MOVIE EVER MADE written by Sestero and Tom Bissell (which is a fascinating read on its own), its film counterpart is just as fascinating. Reportedly, James Franco remained in character as Tommy Wiseau for the duration of filming. It’s just absolutely amazing how much he nailed not only Wiseau’s mannerisms and personality, but his accent as well; it is just uncanny, and a little scary how dead-on it is. James Franco, as a result, manages to steal every scene that he’s in, managing to figuratively grab you by the head and pull you into his performance with every line of dialogue. On the other hand, Dave Franco’s portrayal of Greg Sestero is the audience’s window to the mysteriousness of Tommy Wiseau; Sestero is the stand-in for the audience. He, like us, don’t really know how to approach this weird guy. So it’s more so through Sestero’s eyes that we are able to understand and even empathize with Wiseau than through Wiseau himself, as his eccentricity would initially put people off. Hence, the chemistry between the brothers Franco on-screen it amazing, and really helps move the narrative along and pull the audience into the story. Supporting performances by Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson (“Oh hi, Denny!”), Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, and Alison Brie round out a great ensemble cast. Each actor contributed something memorable to the film, and just seeing all of them interact with James Franco’s Wiseau was always a sight to behold.
What I also found fascinating was how faithful the film was to THE ROOM – even down to the set recreations! At the end of the film, there is a quick reel of side-by-side comparisons between the original footage of THE ROOM and the scenes recreated for THE DISASTER ARTIST, and the attention to detail put in by Franco and crew is just unbelievable. It really lended credibility to the film and made for some hilarious visuals. Well done to the set design crew for getting it right, even down to the smallest intricacy.
The story itself was the perfect mixture of humor and drama – pretty much the same reactions that THE ROOM now elicits. James Franco does an excellent job of focusing on the human element of this story, which in turn makes it very relatable. It’s easy for us to sit here and judge THE ROOM for the utter trash that it is, or to sit back and laugh at its awfulness, but here is a man in Tommy Wiseau who went out there and got his movie made. Here’s a guy who was doubted every single step of the way, and in the end, he lived out his dream. While he was initially taken aback by its reaction (and the film depicts this scene brilliantly and for maximum emotional effect), he has since come around on THE ROOM’s status as the ultimate cult film. So yeah, we can make fun of THE ROOM all we want – the fact that it even got made is a testament to the drive and heart of Tommy Wiseau, and that’s the story that THE DISASTER ARTIST is trying to drive home.
People who have seen THE ROOM will get an extra kick out of THE DISASTER ARTIST, but even those who have never heard of Tommy Wiseau’s “masterpiece” will still enjoy this film. Great performances, an engaging and relatable story, mixed with both humor and drama, is a recipe for an amazing movie experience. Run, don’t walk, to see THE DISASTER ARTIST, and join the rest of us cinephiles as we gladly stand up and say, “Oh hi, Mark!”
THE DISASTER ARTIST
2017 ● 98 Minutes ● United States
Color ● English ● New Line Cinema
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Hannibal Buress, Jerrod Carmichael