All those cheesy half-rate kids TV programmes and movies that feature identical plots and morally strong characters often had the aim of promoting good moral character and life lessons. One of those recurring lessons was that old chestnut: follow your dreams. You can do anything. What life doesn’t tell you is that sometimes you might not be very good at it. The world sometimes places the quality of a product ahead of the effort and passion that’s placed behind it. You might not be first to cross the finish line at the end of a marathon; but at least you finished. At least you can look back and say that you did that. You achieved a dream. No-one can take that away from you.
For a film that’s often said to be the worst ever made, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room turned out to be incredibly entertaining. There’s a million reasons why this independent film turned out to be quite the experience; but if you ever get the chance to watch it: make sure you’re not alone so you and some friends can enjoy its awfulness. It has amassed quite the cult following, reaching its (assumed) $6million budget and turning a profit. The cast visit midnight showings and have even had documentaries and books written about it.
Said book, The Disaster Artist, was written by The Room’s line producer/second lead Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, and covers Sestero’s friendship with the aforementioned Tommy Wiseau. It’s a fascinating and hilarious book that jumps around in time chronicling how Sestero and Wiseau met and moved to Los Angeles before filming The Room. It fell into the hands of James Franco and fell in love with it, casting himself as Wiseau and his brother Dave as Sestero; and boasts a supporting cast including Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer amongst others.
The movie, directed by James Franco, follows the story of the two men meeting. Greg (Franco of the Dave flavour) as a young wannabe actor with stage fright who has the model good-looks but not the confidence. Enter the mysterious Tommy (Franco of the James variety) who has no grasp of acting talent, an incomprehensible accent, but is armed with mass amounts of confidence and self belief. Greg is in awe of Tommy’s passion and strikes up an unlikely friendship that leads to Greg staying at one of Tommy’s apartments in LA as they both try and make it big.
As it begins to feel as if success isn’t going happen, Greg absently makes an off-comment about making their own movie to a depressed Tommy – who then decides to make it. He writes and pays for it with what seems like an unlimited amount of money. The filming of infamous scenes from The Room are covered like the notorious rooftop water bottle moment, the awkward love scene, the weird drug-dealer… they’re all there. Whilst in the centre of the story, the friendship of the two men stays in focus.
It’s all too easy for James Franco to feel as if he’s portraying Wiseau in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Wiseau often feels as if he’s his own sketch character, and Franco’s accent and speech pattern take a while to get used to. But as the movie unfolds, Franco manages to go past the weird laugh and start to show moments of genuine emotion from Wiseau. Wiseau spends the movie slowly coming to grips with self-realisation and beginning to let the opinions of others doubt what he’s doing. It’s the friendship with Greg that really ends up re-affirming that what he’s done is something that he wanted to do. The film has moments where it does hit you with its own moral message like those cartoons of old: Wiseau put his mind to something and he did it. It may not be what he wanted, but it ended up being loved by a lot of people.
As good as all that is, The Disaster Artist’s main failing really is the old adaptation trope of “not as good as the book”. The book’s structure is more revealing of the Greg/Tommy relationship in parallel to the gradual chaos that the shoot apparently had. The movie shoot itself also recreates a lot of the movie’s scenes, playing up to the audience’s memory of The Room – but doesn’t feel as if it’s as manic as other sources have said the filming was. There’s a lot of little details in the book where Sestero offers his own opinions on Wiseau’s history that is glossed over; and many of the more famous production issues (lots of recasting, the vanishing of Peter) are glossed over or not touched upon. There’s definitely some more interesting stuff the film doesn’t have time to really delve into.
But the passion that the Franco’s have for The Room echoes throughout The Disaster Artist. A dream project that James Franco can be proud of; he takes a character that could easily feel like a parody and gives him an edge of pathos. Dave Franco gives this film a heart and altogether it tells a lovely story about wanting to tell a story. The Disaster Artist is brilliant. If you disagree, then you can keep your stupid comments in your pocket…