“The accent is good, the hair looks real, that sense of derangement is never far from the surface” – Dara Higgins takes notes from The Disaster Artist
There is no shortage of bad art. In fact, it proliferates. Blockbusters are stuffed with duff dialogue and dodgy looking CGI. Acting and directing are as fallible as any of us. Some stories veer dangerously away from logic, some avoid common sense, others eschew all accuracy to serve a facile plot. So what makes one movie, specifically Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 and artistic litter-tray The Room worse than all those other bad movies out there?
For sure, the script is bad. The dialogue laden with non sequiturs and emotive bullshit. The story, ostensibly a simple tale about an all American white collar hero dude with a heavy, at times incompressible mid-European accent, trying to deal with the fact that his best mate is getting it on with his fiancé, is all over the shop. It’s not even in the shop. It has no idea where the fucking shop is.
The acting does a disservice to the very notion of amateurish, the editing is apparently random. It is a disaster area. That’s a given.
On first watch, this isn’t laugh a minute. It’s more excruciating than that. The laughs are at the sheer brazen awfulness of it. The idea that someone watched the rushes back and thought, yeah, that’s the scene. Someone edited this. Someone wrote it. Directed. Someone decided it was a good idea to put it out there on general release, paid for the advertising, paid for a premiere. That someone being, of course, the movie’s auteur, Tommy Wiseau. A film this bad should have died shortly after birth, if not in the womb. So how is it part of the canon? Why are we talking about it?
This isn’t a review of The Room. But without The Room, there’s no The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s kind of touching tribute to the film and Wiseau, based on the memoir by cast member and Wiseau sidekick Greg Sestero.
Sestero, (here played by Franco’s younger brother Dave, ensuring there’s some beautiful Franco visage on screen at all times as James is made up to look like the dilettante Ian McShane, synthpop vampire that is Wiseau,) meets Tommy at acting class. Sestero, a struggling model, is not good at acting (as evidenced by his performance is The Room) and is taken with Tommy’s energy as he wails and flails screaming “STELLA”, making Brando’s Stanley Kowalski look like a travelling hairbrush salesman with a mild headache.
As they become friends Greg tries to unpick the mystery that is Tommy. Where’s he from, how old is he, where does he get his money? There’s no drilling into Tommy’s manically laid back demeanour. Other than that he considers himself an artist, a great one, but has zero apparent talent.
As Greg flounders in Hollywood, and Tommy is equally disillusioned, the idea of making their own film is mooted. Tommy writes a script, Greg reads it. Greg thinks it’s good, which makes you question Greg’s intelligence, frankly. With money no issue they go about assembling a crew and a cast and hire a lot on which to film. Tommy throws lucre at the project. He wants it shot on film and digital simultaneously. He wants to buy the gear, rather than rent. Realising he’s essentially throwing money at them, the studio guys shrug their shoulders and let him get on with it.
The Disaster Artist is funny. Deliberately so. Franco’s Wiseau is played for laughs. There’s no other way, really. The accent is good, the hair looks real, that sense of derangement is never far from the surface. He chews the scenery, at one point entering the scene in the nip, a tiny baggy covering the little fella, insisting that film’s frankly awful sex scene be filmed in front of everyone. No closed set for Tommy’s gyrating arse.
Dave Franco’s performance is also good, but kind of unchanging. He’s the same twitchy, meek presence by the end as he is in the beginning, with one obvious outlier – when he fights Wiseau and challenges him to be honest, for once. Tommy is, as ever, Sphinx-like in his secrecy.
The enduring mystery as to who is Tommy Wiseau is the crux of this movie, of the interest in Wiseau fullstop. Obviously, there’s no answer to this, other than he’s a mentaller with a bottomless pot of money, and an equally endless supply of self-regard. His is the epitome of the modern American dream. He tried a weighty drama, suiting his talents as the new James Dean, and instead made an absolute dog’s dinner. So what do you do but throw money at it until it succeeds, not as a modern Tennessee Williams, but as a neo-Spinal Tap. What is The Room but a triumph of belligerent narcissism?
While it remains a very popular late night movie for drunken lovers of all things ironic, the movie is also beloved of Hollywood illuminati. Franco puts together a line-up of famous and wealthy talking heads – Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Kristen Bell and the like, who blather on about how great it is. It isn’t great. It’s fucking awful. Its success is a complete accident, albeit a dollar-fuelled one. Somewhere in here is a great rewriting of history, that Wiseau set out to create the ultimate in hideous celluloid and is indeed A Disaster Artist. But he isn’t, let’s face it. And Hollywood can stop these feel-good movies about how great Hollywood is, really, and we can open a book on who the next sex pest is gonna be instead. I know who my money’s on.
Also published on Medium.