By Liv Armstrong (@starcadet96)
It’s hard to overstate the cult following Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room would receive in wake of its release. It made $1800 on opening night, compared to the over $6 million Wiseau himself mysteriously was able to put into the film budget. The entire cast and crew were convinced no one would ever see it. And why wouldn’t they? The Room is often (affectionately) referred to by many of its fans as “the best worst movie ever made”. It not only defies the laws of film-making, it renders them completely irrelevant. Entire scenes have no effect on the plot. The dialogue is beyond bizarre. Every line is wrong.
And at the centre of it is one of the most bizarre performances to ever grace the screen by one of the most indescribable men; Tommy Wiseau himself. For years, fans have been speculating and theorising about both the film’s production and the man himself; what could have happened to give us the result seen in the final product?
Then The Disaster Artist was published, a tell-all memoir by Greg Sestero, who played Mark in the film and worked closely with Wiseau during and before production. He is also possibly Wiseau’s only close friend. It revealed that the making of the film was every bit as bizarre as the film itself and this film adaptation by James Franco brings to life the story of the friendship between the two that began in an acting class and ended with one of the most unlikely independent film success stories in movie history.
Upon their meeting, neither one could be more different to each other; Greg (played by Dave Franco) is a young, attractive yet extremely shy aspiring actor who doesn’t have the confidence to let go and show his abilities to the class. Tommy (played by James Franco) is older (despite what he claims) and fearless in achieving his ambitions to become a great actor. The only problem is that he is also completely terrible at it. They do have one thing in common though; no one seems to give them a chance.
Greg is inspired by Tommy’s ambition, even if the rest of the class is completely baffled by it. After some misadventures and a promise that they’ll make it together, it leads the two to Los Angeles where they try to make it in the movies. However, neither of come close to their big break, especially Tommy who is crushed by the reality of the situation. It comes to a head when Tommy is ready to give up and Greg is also disheartened. “Wish we could just make our own movie,” he says. Tommy turns to him slowly. “That’s great idea,” he replies. And the rest, as they say, is history.
James Franco’s direction takes an almost documentary-style approach to film, with the camera often shaking slightly and close framing. It works to the effect of feeling like a behind-the-scenes feature during the production. As Wiseau, it is important to understand his desire to capture the spirit of the man rather than an exact-life portrayal. The voice is spot-on and it’s very easy to imagine the real Tommy in many of these scenes and scenarios. But what is most impressive is the dramatic scenes between him and Greg, in which he switches between being sympathetic and embarrassing in seconds. It would have been easier but much less effective to simply focus on his strange afflictions and mannerisms which are infamous to anyone familiar with him.
However, Franco’s portrayal emphasises the comedy and sympathy of the man; he isn’t simply a joke or a figure to be mocked. He is a real person (despite some people’s theories to the contrary) with some extreme eccentricities and his friendship with Greg is ripe with cringe comedy. But his desire for both him and Greg to become huge film stars because Greg is the only person he views as a friend is completely genuine and it forms the heart of the film between the uncomfortably hilarious journey for the two to make their own movie.
In one scene, one of the crew muses on the idea that the film is autobiographical for Wiseau; that someone broke his heart and he feels like the world is against him. While we don’t delve into any of Tommy’s mysterious past simply because no one, not even Greg Sestero, knows the truth of his origins, it’s easy to look at Tommy and Greg’s relationship and see some parallels that show up in the script Tommy produces. In the plot of The Room, Lisa cheats on Johnny (played by Wiseau) constantly with his best friend Mark, causing Johnny’s infamous declaration of “Everybody betray me! I fed up with this world!” As Greg begins to receive more acting opportunities and enters a stable relationship with his girlfriend, leading to his declaration to Tommy that he is moving in with her, Tommy is angry and terrified at the thought of Greg moving on without him. The tension between Tommy and the cast and crew of the film leads to paranoia on Tommy’s part, spying on them behind the scenes and believing they are all conspiring against him – “betraying” him, if you will.
When the premiere finally arrives and the time comes for the screening, the reaction is exactly would anyone familiar with The Room would expect. At first, Tommy is devastated, seeing his script and film that he believed he put his heart and soul into not receiving the reaction he expected. But Greg tells him to stop and listen to what is actually happening – they’re happy. They love the film. Even if it wasn’t the way he wanted, Wiseau had created something no one had ever seen before. It’s a surprisingly warm end and leaves with a good feeling, especially considering much of the cringe comedy and sympathy for Greg as well as the cast and crew of the film over Tommy’s antics.
While it may not have been the way he envisioned, Tommy Wiseau created something completely unique and original to the world of pop culture. Reading the book and viewing this film, it’s sometimes hard to like him. His vision is misguided. His friendship with Greg, however genuine, could be seen as toxic. He treated the cast and crew of the film terribly. He did every single thing wrong and was a complete pain in the ass at times. But at the same time, it’s hard not to admire what he accomplished. It’s possible to see in him what Greg saw at the beginning of the film; a man who may not be following any kind of rules of filmmaking but just went and did it anyway. His fearlessness and blind belief in his ability (or lack thereof) led him to technically follow his dreams. And in the end, he did make something meaningful to a lot of people. The film’s cult fanbase speaks for itself. Many of them dress up as the characters, can quote every line and scene and the midnight screenings sell out in an instant. Simply saying “Oh, hai Mark,” is enough to send many of them into hysterics. And that’s a kind of magic that can’t be defined.
The Disaster Artist is a hilarious, genuine and surprisingly delicate look at one of the most beloved and bizarre success stories in film-making history. Whether we’ll ever see another film that reaches the cult magnitude of The Room in our lifetimes remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: there will never be anything else quite like it. It’s one of a kind and James Franco’s retelling of its origins brings the laughs and the heart of how two unlikely friends ended up conquering the world of cult cinema.