Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum opus The Room has a special place in my heart since I first heard about it a decade ago. Being called “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies,” I’ve always been curious of how such a film could ever be conceived, and the mysteries surrounding the making of The Room. My prayers were answered in 2013 when Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s best friend who also plays Mark in The Room, released his tell-all memoir The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, which detailed his relationship with Wiseau when they met in a San Francisco acting class in 1998, as well as the production process and release of The Room. This is a book everyone should read if they are interested in learning about the dynamic between Wiseau and Sestero, but James Franco’s adaptation of The Disaster Artist focuses solely on that dynamic for all the wrong reasons.
The Disaster Artist is James Franco at his best and most commercial. He is an actor’s actor, and he’s very passionate about the films he directs, even if they aren’t commercially viable (see past TIFF selections In Dubious Battle, The Sound and The Fury, and Child of God.) Here, Franco has found the role he was born to play with Tommy Wiseau. He has perfected every mannerism and cadence in his performance, that it rivals anything Daniel Day Lewis has ever done. Dave Franco however, playing opposite James as Greg Sestero, doesn’t bring the 20-something naivety that Sestero had at that age, and he is the weakest part of the movie. There is nothing transformative in his performance to make me believe that he is playing Sestero, but rather just an extension of Dave Franco.
After Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s production company Grey Point bought the rights for the book, as well as the life rights of Tommy and Greg, I was both excited and worried to see how they would be able to translate the material, because the book does not present Tommy in a good light. Seth Rogen, along with many of Hollywood’s current comedy royalty (some of whom have hilarious cameos in the film,) adore The Room, but it is such a shame to see them bastardize the source material and first-hand account that Sestero writes in his book. The film feels like when fans take too much liberty in creating their own greatest hits version of a film they love.
There are glimpses in the film of Wiseau being jealous of Sestero’s moderate climb up the acting ladder, but the details that lead up to Wiseau trying to emulate Sesetro’s success are left out of the film. For example, in the book, when Sestero gets his S.A.G. card, Tommy creates a low-budget commercial for his business, Street Fashions U.S.A. (which you can easily find on YouTube,) so that he can have one too. However, this anecdote is left out. When Sestero flies to Europe to star in Retro Puppet Master, one of his biggest starring roles, that detail is left out as well. (According to a source, they filmed those scenes but left them out of the final cut.) I can understand this is for dramatic purposes, but Anthony Minghella’s 1999 thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley plays such an important role when Sestero saw for the first time in theatres, that he saw it as a comparison between the friendship he has with Wiseau, while Wiseau saw it as an inspiration to write a film just as emotionally powerful with a character like “Mark” Damon. I feel that the writing team of Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber of 500 Days of Summer, The Fault In Our Stars, and Paper Towns fame, just wanted to get to the production process of The Room, and have the buildup and metaphorical comparisons of the friendship take a backset.
Though this review might seem scathing, I am not trying to dissuade people from going to see The Disaster Artist. People who are curious about The Room should use this as a first step to getting to know Wiseau and Sestero and their story. Definitely seek out the book because it really is a page turner.
Stay for the credits to see how the Franco team recreates shot for shot specific scenes of The Room.