Well, I finally got around to seeing The Disaster Artist and, man, I wish I liked this movie. I really do. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, it just doesn’t really work for me. I mean, it’s really hard to get into a film that’s about someone as supremely unlikable as Franco’s Tommy Wiseau. There are ways to successfully have a film that follows an unlikable main character, but The Disaster Artist never latches onto any of those ways. Written by Scott Neudstadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by James Franco – and based on Greg Sestero’s memoir, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made -, The Disaster Artist tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and how their friendship led to the creation of one of the worst films ever made: The Room. The Disaster Artist also stars Seth Rogen as Sandy Schklair, Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle, Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman, Alison Brie as Amber, Mega Mullally as Mrs. Sestero, and a variety of cameos from other actors. (Mild spoilers ahead)
Like I said, it’s not that The Disaster Artist is a bad move – it’s a rather good one. It’s just that it’s also a really weak film. The major problem is that the film asks us to follow the journey of Tommy Wiseau, a character who is beyond supremely unlikable, and then asks us to sympathize with him as the rest of the characters make fun of him for his eccentricities. As this film is about the making of a real film and thus features actors playing the roles of real people, any mention of a real person is limited strictly to their portrayal in this film. With that out of the way, as portrayed in this film, Tommy Wiseau is an unlikable asshole who deserves every bit of misery thrown at him throughout the movie. I don’t know if it’s because of the writing or because of James Franco’s performance that Wiseau came across this way to me, but that was the feeling I got from the character and the fact that I could never get around my disliking of him made it near impossible for the film’s dramatic moments to actually land for me.
For example, the climax of the film is set during the world premiere of The Room. At the screening, the audience is reacting negatively to the film and laughing at how bad it is and The Disaster Artist tries its hardest to make me feel bad for Tommy in the scene, but it just doesn’t work. I don’t care that his feelings are being hurt because he spent the entire movie not caring about anybody else’s feelings and treating them like utter dirt. Whether it’s his refusal to film the sex scenes with Juliette Danielle on a closed set – and then insulting her body – or the way he frequently treats Greg, Tommy just comes off as an asshole and so the fact that the film asks me to ultimately sympathize with him is such a laughably ludicrous thing to ask someone who’s sat through the entirety of the film to do that it immediately took me right out of the moment. The scene doesn’t land because I abhor Tommy in this film.
In fact, the film spends all its time focusing on Wiseau – and Franco’s impersonation of him – that it never bothers to develop any of the characters beyond mere caricatures of the real people being represented. Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero is supposed to be the character that the audience sympathizes with. He’s the everyman who just wants to succeed in Hollywood and keeps getting walked all over by Wiseau, yet the film never really shows us this. They tell us and we see the occasional scene where this happens, but the film never really bothers with actually giving Sestero any real character development. We’re just kind of told that we’re supposed to sympathize with him. It’s the same thing for all the other characters – only worse. Every scene that features James Franco’s Wiseau is immediately stolen by the character of Wiseau and as a result, very little attention is paid to anybody else in the scene. Greg, at least, has a couple of scenes on his own, but most everybody else shares the screen with Wiseau and as a result, end up being nothing more than pale imitations of the people they’re representing.
This film barely has any plot. On the surface, it’s the making of The Room and an examination of the friendship between Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero. I know it’s based on Sestero’s memoir, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, but I haven’t actually read Sestero’s book, so I can’t comment on how closely Franco’s film follows it. That being said, it’s like this film only exists as a way to showcase Jame’s Franco’s impersonation of Tommy Wiseau. The making of The Room serves really only as a framing device for the collection of various scenes that feature Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau. There’s no real drama in this film; no stakes, no emotion – nothing that most good biopics have. The closest film that The Disaster Artist could be compared to is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp as Ed Wood. In Ed Wood, there’s genuine pathos there. The jokes in that movie aren’t how ridiculous Ed Wood was or how bad his films were; the comedy came out in the interactions between the various characters. Ed Wood is a film that clearly respected the real-life people behind the story it was telling. It wanted to tell a story about an underdog who made films regardless of their quality. Contrast that with The Disaster Artist, a film that gets its comedy from how ridiculous and over-the-top Tommy Wiseau is and how truly horrible the film he was making was. All the best jokes are made at the expense of the source material – or the people involved in creating it. There’s very little pathos and it doesn’t seem like the film is actually concerned with telling a story; it just wants to show off its director/producer/star, James Franco.
This has been a mainly negative review, but I do wanna make it clear that The Disaster Artist isn’t really a bad film. It’s trying very hard to be one, though. It doesn’t feature any kind of a plot or any real character development and it concerns itself only with the humor that’s inherent in how ridiculous the real-life Tommy Wiseau is and how awful the film he’s most known for creating was. All the actors in The Disaster Artist do a phenomenal job, even if their roles are nothing more than glorified caricatures of real people. It’s a genuinely funny film, most of the time. It’s an interesting look at the making of an awful movie and how everyone who worked on it at the time thought it wasn’t going to be as bad as it ended up being. It’s funny – that final scene set during the premiere of The Room that’s supposed to make the audience sympathetic to James Franco’s Wiseau ends up making you feel bad for literally everyone else involved. They were all just trying to make a film they genuinely thought would be okay and it’s actually hurting them to see how bad it is. If The Disaster Artist had focused more on the impact that Wiseau’s antics had on the people who surrounded him, it might have been a much better film. As it is, it’s a fairly enjoyable and utterly harmless mockup of the enigma that is the real-life Tommy Wiseau. You won’t remember much of this film after you’ve seen it, but you’ll enjoy it well enough while you watch it.
(3 out of 5 wands)