Director: James Franco
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber. Based on the book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.
Composer: Dave Porter
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama, History
The saying, “history repeats itself,” feels apt here. For almost half a century, Plan 9 From Outer Space was frequently touted as the worst film in existence, fused with an unbelievable amount of incompetence. Baffled as to how it came to be, the film Ed Wood explored the true behind-the-scenes story, focusing on the movie’s terrible director of the same name, played by Johnny Depp. It performed well at the Oscars, unlike the film’s subject matter.
Now this pattern is being repeated with the new “bad movie” cult classic in town, The Room. Keen to get his side of the story out, Greg Sestero, one of the reluctant actors of the project, wrote a book about his experiences called The Disaster Artist, publishing it in 2013. Following the same course as Ed Wood, the book is now being adapted into a movie–a film about a film–helmed by James Franco and starring his usual comedic cohorts. The question is, will this film merely be an excuse to point a finger and mockingly laugh further? Or will it uncover the book’s underlying heartfelt plea of a man just wanting acceptance in a world that’s otherwise disinterested?
I attended The Disaster Artist’s Australian premiere, located at Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum–one of the most popular places to host late night interactive sessions of The Room. Facing a crowd filled with dedicated fans, Greg Sestero participated in a Q&A session after viewing. The audio and details of this conversation can be found further down in this article, after the main review.
Violence/Scary Images: There are several heated arguments during the film. During one, a character angrily smashes a glass. Another spat occurs while one of the men is naked, using a threatening posture. Two men tackle each other out of anger.
The Disaster Artist is a film about a film (The Room). Therefore some of the scenes in The Room are re-enacted. One actor brings a prop gun to his mouth, clicks the trigger, and terribly acts out the death–no blood is shown. One actor unconvincingly shoves his scene partner around. Whilst performing a scene on stage, an actor brings a chair above his head and throws it across the room.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped with relative frequency (roughly every 3 to 5 minutes). The s-word is also heard occasionally. God is said in vain numerous times; it is a common saying for one of the characters. Other, lesser swear words, such as those involving genitalia, are also mentioned a few times.
Drug/Alcohol References: There are two scenes set at a bar and a few more at restaurants where alcohol is served. For the most part, the alcohol is seen in the background. Wine glasses are sitting on the table, or are held by extras. Only in one of the bar scenes does the main character down a drink; they are not intoxicated.
Spiritual Content: None.
Sexual Content: Appears only in the context of the movie-within-a-movie. James Franco’s character shocks everyone by appearing on set stark naked with the exception of a sock-like cover over his genitals. The camera does not cut away while he proceeds to argue with his crew (though it does move to a side angle, revealing his bare buttocks but not the front). There is a later, direct shot of Franco’s bare backside. The two characters act out a sex scene–the back and buttocks of a man is seen, though only the bare shoulders of the female actress underneath is shown. The woman walks around the set holding a sheet to cover herself–no female nudity is seen.
During auditions, actresses are asked to mime bizarre activities, and the scene begins to slide into sexual innuendo.
Other Negative Content: The characters are heavily focussed on the belief that a meaningful life is defined by fame, fortune, and a successful career.
Positive Content: At its heart, the story is about an unwavering, supportive friendship.
The Disaster Artist is a wildly enjoyable romp with a sincere heartfelt love letter to all those who dare to dream big. Following in Johnny Depp’s footsteps, James Franco does a wonderful job in balancing the opportunities for comedy while maintaining authenticity, successfully portraying an unorthodox individual who is mostly misunderstood.
Tommy Wiseau is a difficult man to pin down. Frequently described as one of the most mysterious people in Hollywood, Wiseau’s past, heritage, and the story behind his wealth are virtually unknown. Yet James Franco has stepped up to the challenge. He nails Wiseau’s indistinct and unplaceable accent and has readily adapted to his mannerisms, resulting in an uncanny resemblance, despite not looking a thing like the oft-maligned film creator in real life.
By getting the main character right, this movie transcends merely being a piece that explores the problems experienced during the filming of The Room. It gets to the heart of the book, which centers less on the film and more about an unconventional friendship between two artists. At its core it’s an endearing story about encouraging one another, not giving up, and redefining what it means to succeed.
That’s not to say it’s unfunny. In fact, there were some scenes where I laughed so hard that I started crying–something which I haven’t experienced in the cinema all year. The entire third act of the movie is dedicated to re-enacting scenes from The Room and it’s absolutely hilarious! It also continues on into the credits, where we get to truly appreciate in a side-by-side comparison the lengths Franco’s team have gone to replicate the original. An end credit scene is also highly amusing, so be sure to stay in your seats!
Since The Disaster Artist is based on the personal experiences of Greg Sestero, viewers may be wondering whether one should read the book before watching the film. Personally, I do not find it necessary. Instead, since the film directly parodies The Room, it would be wise to watch that movie beforehand, otherwise, a lot of the comedy would be lost.
For fans of The Room, I do thoroughly recommend reading the book at some point in time, but the film adaptation does deviate significantly, to the point where the changes were irritating. For the most part, a lot of the details in the book have been streamlined for narrative purposes. That’s fairly standard and is to be expected. As mentioned before, the film does a wonderful job in capturing the spirit of the book, however, those hoping for more of an insight into what occurred during the production will be disappointed. The Disaster Artist is first and foremost a film about overcoming the Hollywood machine. Read the book or watch the Room Full of Spoons documentary if you want more of the nitty gritty details or deeper answers as to why The Room is so bad.
The most noticeable difference between the book and the film is the narrative structure. Sestero divides his memoirs into essentially two parts. One story focuses on how his friendship with the eccentric Tommy Wiseau developed, while the other divulges information about the decision-making processes on the set of The Room. Sestero alternates between the two with each chapter.
The film doesn’t jump back and forth and instead takes a more traditional approach. It starts with Greg and Tommy’s meeting, their struggles in Los Angeles, then how The Room was created, then finally the public’s response to the work. Each portion feels like it’s given equal weight, so the pace rolls along very nicely. The film doesn’t drag at any point, though it may gloss over the finer details.
However, to force real-life events into this structure means scrapping some of the ‘messier’ elements. Indeed, a lot of moments have been condensed and fused together. Other key story beats seem to be completely fictionalized unless it was taken from another source because certain parts were not found within the pages of the book. So while the film is neatly streamlined, it’s irritatingly thrown aside some of the truth as well.
Aside from the need to condense stories from page to screen, the number of changes could also be due to shift in perspective. In the book, Greg Sestero is the main character as everything is naturally told through his eyes. The movie, however, provides equal screen time between Sestero and Wiseau, played by Dave and James Franco respectively. While it emphasizes the idea that the story is really about their relationship, it also feels as though the decision came about due to doubting as to whether Dave Franco had the capacity to carry a film on his shoulders. While all the actors (and various cameos) in this film play their parts well, James Franco does take the limelight, though it’s mostly thanks to Tommy Wiseau’s wonderfully imperfect personality.
It truly is James Franco’s show. With just a look or a sentence, he manages to capture the many moods of Tommy, which can be hilarious in its own right. Sitting in a cinema full of mega fans, all of which are familiar with Wiseau’s eccentricities, it’s difficult to know whether newcomers would find the same level of humor. How much of The Disaster Artist is truly funny, and how mucho9 of it is only amusing because the audience is already in on the joke?
It’s therefore difficult to gauge the success of The Disaster Artist. It’s a movie about a niche film, appealing to a small cult following. A cinema full of fans will fill the theatre with riotous laughter, but others, sitting on the outside of this bizarre phenomena looking in, may only witness a light-hearted yet oddly endearing film about what qualifies as a success when it comes to art. In this way, Ed Wood may still be the better of the two, as it’s more of a universal watch and isn’t so reliant on the audience having done their homework.
Q&A with Greg Sestero
After the premiere, Greg Sestero–author of The Disaster Artist book and who played Mark in The Room–appeared on stage for an interview with the general manager of Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum complex, Alex Temesvari.
LANGUAGE WARNING: The interview mentions light swear words such a h*ll and d*mn, along with a reference to male genitalia.
Below are the timestamps for the following questions:
1 min – Three years ago, last time Greg Sestero was in Sydney, he discussed the possibility of The Disaster Artist being made into a film. How does it feel to be back here, having made that journey?
1:50 – What was the journey like from writing the book to getting it onto the screen?
4:23 – How did James Franco approach the role as Tommy Wiseau?
8:35 – What are your thoughts on Tommy Wiseau’s worldview as represented through The Room?
11:38 – Considering that The Disaster Artist was going to star the James Franco/Seth Rogen duo, was there ever a concern that the source material was going to be treated disrespectfully?
13:15 – James Franco wasn’t Tommy Wiseau’s first choice to play him. So who was?
13:52 – How did Dave Franco approach the task of playing you?
14:56 – What initially drew you to seeking mentorship/friendship from Tommy Wiseau?
16:03 – So how old is Tommy Wiseau?
17:25 – Was your mom excited that she was going to be portrayed by Megan Mullally?
18:25 – How long do you foresee The Room continuing on being a cult phenomenon?
20:51 – Is there a particular memory that has come back to you since undergoing this process of turning The Disaster Artist into a film?
22 mins – Do you regret doing The Room?
23:30 – It is at this point when Alex begins to read out questions that the audience had submitted prior to the event. Unsurprisingly, the most asked question is, “Anyway, so how is your sex life?” Shocking us all, Greg Sestero actually answers!
25:16 – Which Franco brother is the most handsome?
25:47 – Why is the “Oh hi, Mark” line so popular?
26:31 – Where did Tommy Wiseau find the money to fund The Room?
27:44 – While filming The Room, did you ever think about quitting and walking away from the project?
28:36 – How do you feel about the changes made from the book for the film adaptation?
31:11 – So what is next for you?
32:28 – Would you rather have Tommy Wiseau’s face with the talent of James Franco, or James Franco’s face with the talent of Tommy Wiseau?
+ James Franco's performance. + Successfully captures the themes of the book. + Eye-watering comedy.
- The events are heavily simplified or deviate significantly from the book.
The Bottom Line
A brilliant piece of mimicry, The Disaster Artist could potentially be the funniest film of the year… if you’re the right audience. Yet if you’re not in on the joke, it’s still a heart-warming underdog tale that’s sadly only roughly based on the true version of events.