The Madness Behind The Making Of The Room
Greg Sestero [D Franco] is a late teens actor living in San Francisco desperate to get into the world of film, theatre and/or television but is so timid that he simply cannot perform to an acceptable level. While at an acting class he encounters an extremely confident, subtly enigmatic individual whose unorthodox methods and performances inspire the young actor. Approaching the man, he befriends the bizarre, heavily accented Tommy Wiseau [J Franco] but learns so very little about him. A strange friendship forms and Tommy suggests they go to LA to make it big in Hollywood. Greg dismisses this as fantasy but Tommy reveals that he has an apartment in Los Angeles and thus they both travel across the State to make their fame and fortune. After a series of dead-ends, Greg gives Tommy the idea to make and fund their own film. As production begins, Greg discovers that Tommy isn’t the auteur he once believed and the fact he knows so little about his supposed friend drives a significant wedge between them and their fledgling feature film.
Full disclosure, I resent The Room for existing. Furthermore, I resent its success in spite of its ineptitude and that enjoyment is primarily drawn from its shambolic and rambling execution. I will openly admit, that’s a very bitter and selfish response but as a creative I despise that there are so many neglected releases on various levels and this does not deserve the wealth of money, time and fan devotion that it has spawned over the years. Were I to review The Room, I would say it is functional in spite of itself but barely so with plot threads that go nowhere, painful performances and a baffling method of execution in terms of how it was shot. Of course, there are plenty of laughably bad films but this one riles me because it feels like a combination of undeserved attention and effectively laughing at the expense of the mentally disabled.
As far as the positives are concerned, The Disaster Artist is a very well directed, well performed release which is a perfectly suited project for Franco. Strangely, Franco shares a surprising amount of artistic qualities as Tommy; from his desire to tell a profoundly personal story, to his need to create things in spite of what the audience and producers believe will sell. And before anyone highlights that one is an established Hollywood name, I would note that both The Room and many of Franco’s own productions were made for a similar amount of money. Case in point, this film’s budget was “only” three million dollars more than that of The Room; which, admittedly, is a nice reassurance that you can throw as much money at a project as you like but without the skill, vision and sense to make something coherent, you’ll only end up with nonsense. If anything, I would be curious to know Franco’s reasoning for taking on this project. He excels with it but I wonder if that stems from a projected kinship, much in the same way that Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was both an analysis and a bit of a love letter to the bizarre filming methods of Plan 9 From Outer Space’s erratic director.
As stated, James Franco performs amazingly. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who would be willing to state that what Franco brings to the screen is anything other than an unabashed, honest human portrayal of a very eccentric caricature of an individual. Outside of this role, the supporting cast are all pleasing to one degree or another. Dave Franco’s zeal and enthusiasm as Greg feels real, as does his wooden inability to really connect with the parts he’s given. Everyone else, thanks to the chaotic nature of The Room’s toxic production, is a conveyor belt of cameos and strong comedic supporting roles which enhance the film without completely taking you out of the moment – because at the end of the day, the character of Tommy is so bizarre that the narrative content feels like it couldn’t possibly be real. But the fact that it is real raises an interesting query: is it absolutely necessary to have seen The Room to enjoy the release? Frankly no and that is a huge commendation to Franco and his direction; that we as an audience are given such insight into a release that you never have to watch to understand. And for those that would disagree, there are a few side-by-side comparison shots from the imitation and the genuine article. But even then, it’s an example of comfortable filmmaking that never says anything but acts as a good send-up, reflection and companion piece. Subsequently, the bulk of its audience is going to be fans of The Room and filmmakers or industry professionals and that’s where the problems really set in.
Ultimately, a self-indulgent look behind the scenes is as amusing as a holiday anecdote – narratively speaking it holds merit but it is mostly enjoyed by those directly affected or able to relate “You know how the traffic in Rome is, right? Oh, you’ve never been, well don’t worry about it” etc. This is why really great films like The Player rarely do well outside of the usual film circuit because it’s rife with in-jokes and predicaments that don’t often translate well for a standard audience. I completely appreciate how baffling that sounds as 95% of the cinematic stories people watch have next to nothing in common with their daily lives but it’s a pattern that holds. Curiously, there is a key exception to this trend and it’s the ratio of optimism and joy to cynicism and catty elitism. So films about making movies at any cost for the love of it, things like Brigsby Bear, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, Be Kind Rewind and, to an extent, Cinema Paradiso, are celebrations of the art-form and audiences do not need a familiarity with the process. The Disaster Artist, on the other hand, is literally about how the industry works and how a film should and shouldn’t be made and at its centre is an enigma of a man so trying to ascertain what is conventional, normal and expected for a film set is tricky at the best of times.
Finally we have the film’s biggest downfall. The movie opens on talking-head soundbite interviews from established and successful actors and directors. They all describe The Room as a magnificently bizarre release that shouldn’t work but is engrossing and absurd yet boasts a cult following and has enjoyed over a decade of sold out screenings. This made me uncomfortable. Maybe this is merely projection but as the film progresses you can’t help the feeling that the jokes are very straightforward (certainly to anyone who is familiar with The Room) and there is a derisive, condescending mockery because while we can all laugh at the madness of this shoot, the jokes are being told by people already know have succeeded in the industry. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t intentionally cruel, I genuinely don’t think this was made with deliberate malice but there’s a subterranean unpleasantness. Most of the time I feel the same way about able-bodied actors playing “brave” roles of someone with a disability. I find this especially stupid as there are so many non-able-bodied individuals who could bring that performance out. But I digress. Wiseau is a mystery. No one knows if he is eccentric or genuinely psychologically scarred. To take the bonkers trough of a film that he produced and reproducing it while pointing at its creator saying, “Isn’t this crazy!? That’s not how it’s done! He thinks he’s Hitchcock, what an idiot.” comes off as exploitative and taking advantage. The only defence for which is that he says it’s fine and everyone got paid.
And yet, The Disaster Artist could be a lot worse. It’s an interesting biopic and tries its best to give a message of hope in the way the film closes and with little lines and exchanges because despite what people think, it’s very difficult to know whether a film will be spectacular or a horrendous failure; one only need hear Tom Hardy talking about Mad Max: Fury Road to see that. So when one of the actors is quizzed on why she drives fifteen miles for a bit part in what is slowly being revealed as a crappy movie helmed by a manic director, she responds, “Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day anywhere else.” And that is the most honest and genuine reason any film should ever be made.
8th December 2017
The Scene To Look Out For:
As The Room is screened for the first time to a packed cinema, the reactions from the audience are spectacular. Most notably for how a series of whispers quickly erupts into fits of laughter and ridicule. Initially we laugh along with the shoddily made story but as the actors involved show confusion, fear and shame, you can’t help but feel the laughter turning surprisingly painful. This is all down to subtle sound and editing work along with the performances but it’s just really great cinema. Although, for a creative, a public premiere is one of the most daunting and terrifying things to do and all I could feel was the creeping concern that all filmmakers are just as mad as Tommy; the difference is some succeed.
Without a doubt, James Franco’s performance is masterful and captivating for its soulful oddness. But something needs to be said of the straight-man, the eager and misled Greg played by Dave Franco. Nowhere is his twisted devotion and innocence more painful to watch than the scene wherein he asks Tommy for a day off shooting to appear in a potentially important supporting role for the TV series, Malcolm In The Middle; a role which requires him to have a full beard. Naturally, Tommy refuses and Greg is forced to choose between productions. From there we cut to his beard being shaved in line with the film’s schedule and any opportunity he may have had falling away from him. Anyone performing next to an extremely bold, ostentatious role has their work cut out for them and Dave Franco did a stellar job. Having said that, his beard looked fucking awful. Just.. just awful.
“Just because you want it, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It’s one in a million, even if you have Brando’s talent”
In A Few Words:
“While this is a wonderful companion piece to one of the most overrated bad films ever made, it’s far from the breath-taking release it’s being heralded as”
Total Score: 3/5