There’s a certain degree to which I think we overestimate the importance or impact of Tommy Wiseau’s horrible film ‘The Room’. The definition of a cult classic, it’s hardly known outside of the select circles who appreciate its incongruous existence - and let’s be honest, it doesn’t really deserve to be known outside of them. However, it’s no surprise that director James Franco should be drawn to exploring its creation, since the story behind ‘The Room’ is more fascinating than the film itself, but whether Franco’s film ‘The Disaster Artist’ makes great use of that story is not quite as clear.
Based on the memoir by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, ‘The Disaster Artist’ reframes what on the page feels like a fascinating observation on the fragility of the American dream into a somewhat sweet buddy comedy. Beginning in 1998, it follows the friendship between young Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, ‘Bad Neighbours’, ‘Now You See Me’) and the mysterious eccentric Tommy Wiseau (James Franco, ‘Spring Breakers’, ‘This Is The End’), with their aspirations to be movie stars bringing them to Los Angeles. Their collective lack of success is what prompts Tommy to write, direct, produce and star in a film of his own creation, where the tumultuous making of ‘The Room’ pushes the limits of their relationship.
When I saw ‘The Disaster Artist’ in the cinemas, I really enjoyed it, appreciating its mix of comedy and drama. On second viewing however, I found myself distracted by many glaring problems I hadn’t noticed the first time. Since first seeing it I have also read the book, and while a film and its source material should exist as separate entities, as an adaptation the film doesn’t work as well as it could have. The film itself suffers from problems of its own. The first half really doesn’t hold up, with the dance of Greg and Tommy’s blossoming relationship mostly meandering an uninspired. A lot of this comes down to the weakness in Franco’s performance, a startling caricature of Wiseau but too buffoonish to elicit either the sympathy or criticism to understand him. Franco relies on Tommy’s narcissism to get the character by, but this doesn’t go far enough to explain his motivations or why Greg would be enamoured with him in the first place. From a directorial standpoint, Franco also fails to find a through-line for the opening half, with it inevitably feeling like a distraction from what we’re really here to see.
The second half which covers the making of ‘The Room’ holds up much better, with the film finally having something to drive it, and the awkward comedy falling away to allow some genuinely fascinating and often effective sequences. The excellent ensemble cast also finally appears, and the cast and crew of the film-within-the-film offer the cynicism towards Tommy that's needed. This half is clearer, meaner and genuinely funnier, and cracks open the potential for what the film could have been. Sure, the recreations of the original film are a lot of fun, but we’re also offered a chance to see the deep-seated paranoia driving Tommy, and Greg’s increasing sense of having been used.
However, the end of the film again insists on making ‘The Disaster Artist’ a buddy comedy. Tommy’s actions while filming ‘The Room’, as misguided as he is, are often reprehensible, especially the way her treats the women on the production, and the film’s framing of him as a kooky dreamer absolves him of those actions. It might seem like Franco and his team are celebrating Wiseau, but it feels more as if they’re laughing at him, having a chuckle at how crazy and misguided he is.
It might seem like Franco and his team are celebrating Wiseau, but it feels more as if they’re laughing at him, having a chuckle at how crazy and misguided he is.
That said, I do enjoy a lot of things about ‘The Disaster Artist’. When it hits its stride, it has a charm and a humour that works, and there are some beautifully-pitched moments with unexpected bite and pathos. It’s just a pity that it lacks the ambition to be something more than what is most comfortable or digestible for its audience. The buddy comedy approach might have a nice charm to it, but the relationship between Sestero and Wiseau is far too bizarre to fit within that mould. As both an adaptation and a film in its own right, it feels like a missed opportunity. Like Franco’s performance, it spends too long worrying about whether it sounds and looks like the thing it’s referencing without looking too hard at what might really be under the surface.
PICTURE & SOUND
The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer of ‘The Disaster Artist’ handsomely recreates the film’s intentionally lo-fi look, something close to the texture of late-90s home video cameras, with the high definition image showing off muted tones and excellent clarity. Rather than the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track on the U.S. disc, our release has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. That said, this isn’t the most aurally dynamic film, and while the wider field of the 7.1 track would have given it a bit more weight, the 5.1 track is still excellent, effective and well-balanced.
The highlight of the set is inevitably the commentary with Franco, Dave Franco, Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, which is as crazy as you would expect, but there’s some good stuff in the video extras as well. ‘Oh, Hi Mark: Making a Disaster’ (13:07) gives a surprisingly solid overview of the production, with often honest interviews with most of the major players (the highlight being Jackie Weaver offering a less-than-glowing assessment of ‘The Room’ itself). ‘Directing a Disaster’ (7:07) focuses more on James Franco’s work (easily the biggest selling point for the film to the public), while ‘Just a Guy Leaning on a Wall: Getting to Know Tommy’ (7:12) centres around Wiseau himself, mixing an interview with him with more talking heads similar to those at the beginning of the film. Missing from the U.S. release are the gag reel and the theatrical trailer.