I feel like there’s no real way to talk about The Disaster Artist without first explaining my feelings about The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s iconic, inscrutable, catastrophic film which defies any sense of good or bad. I have seen The Room nearly a dozen times in the past 8 years, and it’s a movie that brings me incredible joy every time I watch it again. Yes, there are those who argue that The Room is “so bad it’s good,” a term that I truly loathe when it comes to movies – life is too short to watch bad movies, I’d argue, and most of us aren’t the MST3K crew. But The Room is something magical – it’s utterly bewildering in its choices, as though it was written and filmed by an alien who had lived among humans for all of two weeks before crafting what it assumed was an intense relationship drama that also touched on every major human emotion, seemingly at random. From bewildering camera movement to astonishingly bizarre writing, from nonsensical plotting to excruciating sex scenes, and featuring a truly one-of-a-kind “performance” by Wiseau himself. It is, in short, absolutely insane, and wonderfully so.
I say all of this because there’s really no way to discuss The Disaster Artist without taking into account your feelings about The Room. As a movie, The Disaster Artist just isn’t that good, really; it’s incredibly broad, tacks on a contrived ending, and generally takes the weird outsider story of Greg Sestero’s fascinating book (which I highly recommend) and turns it into Tim Burton’s Ed Wood – a love letter to dreamers – and ends up making it feel cheesy and overdone. So, yeah, as a movie? Not the best.
But as a love letter to The Room, The Disaster Artist made me laugh very, very hard, very, very often. Much of that has to come down to James Franco’s performance as Wiseau, which transcends mimicry so quickly that it’s unbelievable; within seconds, I lost track of Franco under there, and just felt as though I was watching Wiseau, from his off-kilter reactions to that bewildering accent. (Indeed, there are moments when Franco is in a tanktop and sunglasses when he basically could be Wiseau.) Franco’s performance anchors the film, turning Wiseau from a caricature into…well, into Tommy, with the good and bad that comes with that. It’s a truly great performance that single-handedly elevates the movie into something else entirely.
And then, there’s the film’s loving recreations of iconic moments. By now, you’ve probably heard that The Disaster Artist ends with a montage playing its own scenes next to the ones from The Room, and while that sounds self-congratulatory, the movie earns it, putting as much love into aping Wiseau’s weirdness as Tommy did making it – maybe even more. More to the point, it helps drive home for any who haven’t experienced Wiseau’s film that, yes, it really was that bad.
But, honestly, I don’t know that you’ll get much out of The Disaster Artist without knowing The Room. I don’t know that you’ll enjoy Franco’s incredible performance unless you realize that, no, he’s not overplaying it; Tommy really is that weird. (This is made abundantly clear in a post-credits scene that I truly loved on so many levels; while the scene was clearly made to placate a key figure, it doesn’t make it any less wonderfully weird and perfectly played.) I don’t know that you’ll enjoy the frustrations of the people on set, or the little easter eggs dropped in as hints as to the origins of the movie, or the ongoing debate of Tommy’s accent, without realizing what this is all about. And I definitely don’t think the film’s broad, overdone arc is interesting enough to hang a movie on.
And yet, even with all of those comments, I thoroughly enjoyed The Disaster Artist – it’s funny, often hilarious, delivers an incredible performance by Franco, and really does offer the best possible tribute to The Room. After all, what could possibly be a more apt tribute than a not very good movie that I enjoyed anyway?