“Just because you want it doesn’t mean it can happen.”
Supposedly there’s a difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them. 14 years on from the release of The Room (written, directed, produced and financed by its ‘star’ Tommy Wiseau) audiences across the world are still discovering and experiencing the unique watching experience it provides – an experience which is neither singularly laughing at or with. It’s one of the worst films in existence for reasons that have to be seen to be truly believed; ‘How everything about it be that bad?’ and ‘Did no-one making it realise just how bad it is?’ are two of the many many questions you’ll ask yourself when watching it. Fortunately we now have something of an answer in the form of The Disaster Artist.
For anyone who has watched the film – let alone enjoyed it or loved it (the usage of these verbs in this context take on a whole new depth of meaning) – would have experienced some sense of trepidation in the run-up to the release of The Disaster Artist. The Room achieved its cult status unintentionally (a loaded understatement) and rather earnestly with the kind of word of mouth build-up that happens once in a generation.
A small-budget drama (which might have been about $6 million) it told the story of a successful banker (played by Wiseau) who is in love with his girlfriend Laura, who is having an affair with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Wiseau apparently pictured it as being a melodrama akin to that of Tennessee Williams – a story of love, betrayal and tragedy. Unfortunately, with it’s inconsistent plotting full of non-sequitur subplots that simply get abandoned and forgotten that is told through nonsensical dialogue that is delivered through the kind of stilted acting that would make a tree say to itself ‘Yep, that’s wooden!’ – this was never going to be the great epic Wiseau believed it would or should be.
After a troubled production – which gets explored in here in truly fascinating detail – the film opened in one Los Angeles cinema screen to a truly disbelieving audience. From there, over the course of a decade or so, it has been seen around the world and now has a truly enormous following – the kind Wiseau believed it would get all along.
And somehow The Disaster Artist manages to do that all of that story total justice in a film that you wouldn’t have needed to watch The Room or know any of its history to appreciate. Starting with the first meeting of struggling actor Greg (Dave Franco) and his illusive acting classmate Tommy (James Franco) and finishing with the premiere of the film they made ‘together’ the film tells a story that somehow manages to be simultaneously micro, in that it focuses on the making of one specific film, and macro in that it tells a story about friendship, dreams and ambition.
Somewhat like last year’s Florence Foster Jenkins (which I wasn’t all that keen on) but more like Ed Wood (the seminal 1994 Tim Burton which would make for a great double bill with The Disaster Artist) this is a story of someone who doesn’t let being not very good at something stop them from trying to reach their dreams. It would be easy to make a film that just laughs at Wiseau – a walking eccentricity who murmurs baffling sentiments in an undisclosed accent. After all he is a man who thought he was making a piece of classic cinema yet ended up with the worst film of all time. Although the film does laugh at Wiseau sometimes it also makes the effort, in which it is mostly successful, in trying to understand him.
He’s unquestionably a difficult man who does and says exceedingly difficult things, yet we come to feel a degree of sympathy for a man whose quirks belie self doubts, frustrations, insecurity and jealousy. James Franco, a man whose own career has taken some ‘interesting’ routes in recent years, plays him extraordinarily well. Not only does he imitate him in a pitch perfect manner from intonation, that awkward laugh and every single mannerism (shot for shot comparison at the end of the film demonstrates this for any doubters) he manages to make Tommy the frustrating enigma to a semi-accessible character. That’s true skill.
The film plays out in a carefully told and most importantly hilarious manner – the frequent gags are well written and well delivered. The level of detail that has gone into recreating The Room would surely have been painstaking but pays off brilliantly. There’s also an incredibly starry ensemble cast who are clearly having their time of their lives. But none of the detracts from the film’s main message. What could have been a film about one man’s truly successful utter failure is instead something more universal and surprisingly poignant – a story of artistic ambition and inner belief. The world’s worst movie has resulted in a true crowd-pleaser of a film with some much-deserved awards season buzz.