It’s safe to say that there has never been, nor will there ever be, any film quite like The Room made again. A singularly bizarre vision, The Room has the reputation as one of the premiere so-bad-it’s-good movies, which I have to agree with. Nothing about The Room works due to just how incompetent the main creative force of The Room. Tommy Wiseau, is both in front of and behind the camera. Since The Room is so singularly bizarre, there was a desire for people to find out how The Room was made which one of the film’s stars Greg Sestero provided with the book he co-wrote in 2013, The Disaster Artist, which is one of my favourite books and one of the few pieces of media to consistently make me laugh. Now, the story behind The Room has come to the screen courtesy of James Franco, and he does a brilliant job at showcasing the personalities behind The Room and why the film has such a strong cult following.The film starts in San Francisco in 1998 with struggling actor Greg Sestero meeting the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau during an acting class, and becoming attached to how fearless Wiseau is, despite his strange tendencies and mysterious background. Over time the two move into a flat Tommy owns in Los Angeles to expand their careers, but don’t have much success, leading to Tommy to decide to make his own film, which ended up being The Room, with production of The Room hampered by Tommy’s horrible attitude and sheer incompetence. Now firstly, I don’t quite think this version of the story is as good as the book. I’m not saying that the film is bad, it’s an excellent film, but the book goes more into detail about the inspiration for The Room, one of the big missteps for the film being that it doesn’t go into connections between The Room and The Talented Mr Ripley, both with the film inspiring Wiseau and how the relationship between Tommy and Greg mirrors the relationship between Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf, along with cutting out a few of the people, including the second crew of the film, and changing the ending. Now these changes are ones that I can deal with, considering just how absurd the events behind the scenes of The Room were, this is a case where, if all those scenes were included, most people would not buy into the film. The rest of the film though is loyal to the spirit of the book, making the wise decision to keep the focus on the relationship between Tommy and Greg, cutting out the portions of the book solely devoted to Tommy. By doing this, and keeping Tommy’s background mysterious (in the book we get a hint of what Wiseau’s background could be and it was the weakest part of the book), we are drawn more into the fascination Greg has for Wiseau, mainly with his age, where he was born and where he got the money to film The Room and own flats in San Francisco and Los Angeles and the support Wiseau gave to Greg early on. At the same time though, it doesn’t shy away from how toxic a person Wiseau is, showing Wiseau to be vindictive, jealous and a horrible person on the set of The Room, not providing the cast and crew with water and air conditioning, constantly turning up late, forgetting his lines and showing completely amateur, inept decisions such as buying all the equipment, shooting in 35mm and HD Digital at the same time and constructing sets when they could just shoot on location. By showing the bad as well as the good of Wiseau, the film creates a more layered depiction of the character, making him one of the most fascinating characters of the year.
The big question with the film though is whether it will play well to people who haven’t seen The Room. From the first frame of the film it’s clear that this is being made by and for fans of The Room, and I am someone who is a fan of The Room, watching it, along with a wide selection of bad films, with my friends at university. I would say that this does work for people who aren’t familiar with The Room in the same way that Ed Wood works for people who aren’t familiar with Plan 9 From Outer Space. By focusing on the characters rather than the film, it acts as a solid introduction to The Room, along with there being some great bonuses for people who know The Room and get all of the inside jokes.
The performances meanwhile add to the quality of the film. The main thing I was afraid of before the film was that James Franco’s performance as Tommy Wiseau would descend into caricature, but Franco instead makes Wiseau a compelling character, delivering probably his best performance. Franco nails Wiseau’s indeterminable accent, the way in which he holds himself and his whole demeanour, every single time he’s on screen you don’t see James Franco, you see Tommy Wiseau. The skill of Franco’s performance though is recognising the darkness of Wiseau as a person. His performance does not sugarcoat Wiseau and when Franco goes into the anger of Wiseau, he shows Wiseau to be a truly frightening, disturbed figure, at the same time showing how insecure he is of being labelled the villain and how these insecurities have informed the character. Dave Franco as Greg Sestero meanwhile is excellent as well, along with looking a lot like Sestero, especially with the beard, he brilliantly shows how the relationship with Wiseau evolves over the course of the film from admiration to disgust, showing the changes brilliantly. The chemistry shared by James and Dave Franco is what helps drive the film, if you don’t believe the friendship between the two then the entire film would fall apart but it works here, the two being brothers adding to this dimension, best scene when the two make a vigil to the site of James Dean’s fatal car crash. Outside of the Franco’s the most prominent role goes to Seth Rogen as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor for The Room and Rogen acts exactly as I imagined Schklair to act based on the book. Over the past few years, Rogen has really show his skill as a straight man bouncing off more absurd personalities and it reaches its height here, Rogen acting as the only sane person on the set of The Room and doing it brilliantly. The rest of the cast have smaller roles to give more focus to the Franco’s. For the cast and crew of The Room, Ari Graynor as Juliette Daniel brilliantly shows the strain that Wiseau is placing on her and her reactions to Wiseau’s disgusting behaviour feel all the more powerful considering what is happening in the film world right now with the sexual harassment scandals. Zac Efron as Dan Janjigian shows how he was probably the best actor in The Room, his method skills and genuinely intimidating air being one of the few highlights of The Room and Efron brings this across effectively, along with comforting others when he goes a bit too far, understanding when he does so. Josh Hutcherson as Phillip Haldiman, Jacki Weaver as Carolyn Minnott and June Diane Raphael as Robyn Paris are great as well, showing their bemusement to everything Wiseau is doing, their anger over how Wiseau acts, mainly with the lack of water and air conditioning causing Minnott to collapse from heat exhaustion, along with their theories about The Room clarifying how much of Wiseau’s life experiences were in the film. We also get appearances from Raphael’s co-hosts of the How Did This Get Made podcast, Jason Mantzoukas as the representative of the studio where Wiseau shoots The Room, doing good work at showing how absurd Wiseau’s decisions for the equipment were along with his sort of exploitation of Wiseau’s money, whilst Paul Scheer as the first DP of The Room, Raphael Smadja is great showing the anger building towards Wiseau, bursting during the filming of the infamous sex scenes when Wiseau insisted the set be open and insulted Juliette Danielle before filming, the disgust Scheer shows during this scene being believable, working with the aforementioned reaction of Graynor. Outside of The Room, Alison Brie is entertaining as Sestero’s girlfriend Amber, a focus of Wiseau’s jealousy, Sharon Stone and Melanie Griffith bring solid authority to Greg’s agent Iris Burton and acting coach Jean Shelton respectively, Megan Mullally is great as Greg’s mum, showing her concerns over Greg’s decision to move to Los Angeles and being the only person in the film not to fall for anything Wiseau does and there are entertaining, character building cameos for Bob Odenkirk as one of Wiseau’s acting teachers, helping to show the insecurities Wiseau has, and Bryan Cranston playing himself, offering a bit of hope for Greg’s career, kind of similar to the role of Vincent D’Onofrio/Maurice LaMarche as Orson Welles in Ed Wood, although to more tragic ends.
Now the most impressive technical aspect of the film is through the respect and love Franco has for The Room. At the start we get people like JJ Abrams, Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Kevin Smith and Keegan Michael-Key explain the appeal of The Room and it’s clear that Franco follows their lead. Everything we see from the shooting of The Room replicates the details of the set we see in the film perfectly, the same being true of the costume design and the music, songs used in The Room being heard here. The dedication Franco gave to recreating the set of The Room comes through at the end of the film when we get to the premiere of The Room. Alongside doing this film, Franco essentially made a shot for shot remake of The Room both to showcase his skill acting as Wiseau, his love and respect for The Room and making the whole environment of the scenes behind the scenes of The Room feel believable as there is a product at the end. At the end of the film we see a side by side comparison of scenes Wiseau filmed for The Room and Franco’s recreations and they are pretty much exact, the exact timing of line delivery being the only real difference, and the skill of the recreation is impressive to see here, unlike when Gus Van Sant did a shot for shot recreation of Psycho, as the recreation builds on the story of the film rather than just being a cheap gimmick.
Overall, whilst I do still prefer the book, The Disaster Artist is an excellent look at the drive of filmmakers and I think it would work as well to people who haven’t seen The Room as it would to people who have seen it. Sure this is a film that is made for fans of The Room, with numerous Easter Eggs and tributes to fans of The Room peppered throughout the film, but by focusing on the characters of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero the film provides a gateway for people unfamiliar with The Room, the relationship between the two being the strongest element of the film, without which all of the scenes detailing the making of The Room would have fallen apart.
My Rating: 4/4