It’s Not True, The Disaster Artist is Not a Bad Movie, It Is Not
The Room is a terrible, terrible movie. Ostensibly, it’s a drama about a well-to-do man named Johnny whose fiancée Lisa cheats on him with his best friend Mark. I say ostensibly because the end product strays so far from the original intention of what director/writer/executive producer/main actor (yes, all four at once) Tommy Wiseau intended that the simplicity of the story is lost in the amalgamation that is the rest of the components of the movie.
The dialogue is atrocious; standout lines include “They betray me, they break their promise, they trick me, and I don’t care anymore,” “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket,” and most famous of all, “I did not hit her, it’s not true, it’s bullsh*t, I did not hit her, I did not. Oh hi, Mark.” There are multiple subplots that are introduced and never resolved, such as Lisa’s mother revealing a breast cancer diagnosis that is never touched on again for the remainder of the movie. The acting nearly across the board is subpar - probably the best actor in the entire movie is Dan Janjigian, who plays Chris-R -- yes, that’s his name, don’t ask why -- a violent drug dealer who spends his five minutes onscreen demanding his money from side character Denny before being carted off to jail by Johnny and Mark. The camera work is shoddy, with several shots throughout the film noticeably out of focus.
Even if only one of the aforementioned components were terrible and the rest were fantastic, The Room would still end up in the history books as a bad movie. It is, however, the culmination of everything terrible that makes The Room much more than just a standard fare terrible movie, but an enigma: how did such a cacophony of awful ideas and components come together?
This is where The Disaster Artist comes in. Originally a book by Greg Sestero - the actor who plays Mark - and reporter Tom Bissell, and adapted into a film by James Franco, The Disaster Artist tells two stories in one: the behind-the-scenes look at the the making of The Room, and the more overarching relationship between Greg, played by Dave Franco, and Tommy, played by James Franco. Whereas the book presents these two stories in alternating chapters, thereby allowing for a separation between the behind-the-scenes material and the character study of Tommy, the movie is chronological, beginning with Greg and Tommy meeting in an acting class in San Francisco in 1998 and ending with the premier of The Room in Los Angeles in 2003. It is in this respect that I believe the movie somewhat edges out the book; having one running narrative allowed the two stories that Greg was telling to flow seamlessly into each other, rather than have the dramatic shifts in time that the book has. The storytelling is great... for the most part (more on that later). I never once felt disinterested by the action taking place on screen, even during what could be considered the duller moments of the film.
Another strength of the film lies in the acting. Dave Franco gave a great performance as Sestero, with other highlights being Seth Rogen as The Room’s script supervisor Sandy Schklair, Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle (who plays Lisa), Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman (who plays Denny), and, in a short but surprising role, Zac Efron as Dan Janjigian. The Disaster Artist opens by interview various celebrities, including Keegan-Michael Key, Tina Fey, J. J. Abrams, and Zach Braff, about The Room, which added a documentary-esque element, helping the viewer get into the headspace of how surprisingly influential The Room became within the Hollywood circle. But the standout performance in The Disaster Artist is, far and away, James Franco’s portrayal of Tommy Wiseau. Franco perfectly captures many of Wiseau’s tics and mannerisms, to the point where it was extremely difficult to separate the actor from the role. Additionally, while any actor can churn out an unintentional bad performance, it takes a great actor to intentionally be a bad actor, and Franco nails it in this film.
In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of the movie comes from the end, at the premier of The Room. The lights in the theater dim, the projector starts rolling, and it slowly dawns on the audience of The Disaster Artist that James Franco has painstakingly filmed near-perfect recreations of scenes from The Room - which are shown side by side with the actual scenes during the credits. This attention to detail leads me to one of my main criticisms with the film - its inaccuracy.
Of course, I expected that the film would make some minor changes in order to dramatize the plot, as well as cut some anecdotes from the book that, in retrospect, seem to be unimportant. But the changes that James Franco made to the story, especially when he has a book that he can use to reference how the events actually took place, were jarring to the point where I feel that it was no longer an accurate representation of Greg’s story. For example, the first big setback at the very beginning of The Room’s filming, and that Greg spends a good chapter and a half talking about, is Tommy replacing the original actor slated to play Mark with Greg at the last minute. In the film, this actor is nowhere to be seen, and Greg is cast as Mark from the beginning of production. Another major change that I felt was unnecessary comes from the end of the film, at the premier of The Room. Franco, as Tommy, becomes disheartened at the fact that the crowd is laughing at his film and not taking it seriously, but after a short pep talk from Greg, goes back into the premier and thanks everyone for enjoying what he has now accepted as a black comedy. In the book, however, it took several years before Tommy embraced the cult status that his movie garnered, insisting that people were misunderstanding the drama in the movie. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why Franco decided to change those two aspects; the former would have added some more comedy and/or drama (depending on how they would have presented it), and the latter would have made Tommy’s reaction to the premier a little more realistic, both from a storytelling sense and from real life.
If you’re a fan of The Room and want an accurate representation of how exactly the movie came to be, I would suggest the book over the movie simply because of the accuracy problems I have with the film. However, if you don’t care about all that real life stuff, and just want to watch an entertaining story about a terrible movie and everything that went into it, I would highly suggest The Disaster Artist. It might not be 100% faithful to the real life events, but I would be damned if I didn’t have a good time seeing how my favorite bad movie came to be. And if you hate The Room, well, you can just leave your stupid comments in your pocket.