Before I begin a review of The Disaster Artist, I’d like to set the stage with my own anticipation for the movie. Scroll to the horizontal line below for the actual review.
Once it was announced that Greg Sestero’s book was getting a movie adaptation, my countdown instantly began. That was over three years ago. And every step of the way I’ve kept my eye on the film’s progress. Like a lot of fans of The Room, I was baffled when the adaptation’s title was changed, for about a year, to The Masterpiece. Thank god they got that straightened out and changed it back….
This past year, the excitement has been building even more rapidly. After the alleged Oscar buzz and standing ovations following the South by Southwest premiere, I was bursting with energy for the potential of Jame’s Franco’s performance as Tommy Wiseau.
When the film came to my town in September, during the Toronto International Film Festival, it was nearly impossible to get tickets. On the night of the TIFF premiere, I waited in line for over seven hours in hopes of getting in. As crazy as that sounds, some people waited even longer. There were over thirty people ahead of me. Needless to say, I didn’t see the movie that night, but I did get some of the Disaster Artist swag they were handing out – as well as a few celebrity sightings, including James and Dave Franco, Greg Sestero, and Tommy Wiseau himself.
The Disaster Artist promotional spoons and mini football.
Disappointed, I went out again the next day, to the final TIFF screening of the movie. This time I waited in line for over eight hours, and I was third in the queue. While waiting I met with and got to know some other fans of The Room, and even though I had a great time with them, they only let the people in front of me in. I was the cutoff. After fifteen collective hours of waiting on a sidewalk, I still couldn’t get see the film. And yes, my life is so vacant that I have that kind of time.
My second time waiting in line….
Finally, last night at 7:00 PM, I sat in a packed theatre with a group of close friends (with a bottle of The Disaster Artist tie-in beer) waiting for the movie to begin. It’s been a long three years, and it was definitely worth every minute of waiting….
TL;DR: I had extremely high expectations for this film, and this review will reflect that.
Directed by and starring James Franco, The Disaster Artist is pretty damn good…. but still far from perfect. In his fast-paced ‘true’ story about the making of The Room, Franco has made an excellent entry-point movie that will introduce a whole new audience to Wiseau. Newcomers to The Room and casual fans will no doubt love this movie, but the mega-fans who’ve read the book multiple times, and who have every frame of the film memorized, may not be as convinced by it.
The film starts rather abruptly, with a group of celebrities discussing The Room and its popularity in documentary-style interviews. Everyone from Danny McBride, to Kevin Smith, to a prolific Star Wars director, have something to say about ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies.’ The intro does not bode well for me, and doesn’t really have any context within the film itself. Other than to establish what The Room is, the scene serves little purpose. It’s as if Franco called up some of his celebrity buddies to help pad the running time of his film. These opening moments are of course reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, in which twins discuss their sibling relationships. In both movies, the intros are ultimately pointless to the overall film.
Fortunately, things do improve from there and the opening minutes are easy to forget. We begin, again abruptly, in the middle of a San Franciscan acting class with a wonderful reveal of Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco) and a theatrical performance from Tommy Wiseau that undoubtedly introduces the character in a memorable way.
Diggin’ the jacket.
Now I saw a different film in my head, based on the Oscar buzz and the way critics praised The Disaster Artist for its depiction of friendship and creativity. Based on early reviews, I expected The Disaster Artist to be a deep character study, taking an intense and humanizing look at the relationship between Tommy and Greg. Set over a period of over five years, the film is actually plot driven, moving too fast to really develop any characters. That was the most disappointing take-away for me. Tommy and Greg Sestero were undoubtedly the focus of the movie, and yet there’s not much to them as characters. Everyone else is in the film is a minor footnote: peripheral and one-note.
Just to be clear, this does not mean the movie is terrible or a let-down. I just want to set the record straight that The Disaster Artist does not have the Oscar potential everyone is currently praising it for. It’s a fun, lighthearted, surface-level take on Tommy Wiseau, an above average comedy without a whole lot of depth. The story has been streamlined to fit into a three act structure, with plenty of facts and characters omitted along the way. It’s still a great adaptation and a fun movie – just keep in mind it’s not the cinematic masterpiece it’s been marketed as.
As Tommy, James Franco’s accent and performance fluctuates from scene to scene. He gets Tommy dead on about half the time, but when he flubs the accent it really stands out. He occasionally comes across as if he’s trying too hard to be Tommy, even insulting Tommy by inserting obvious, intentional mannerisms and speech patterns. My biggest pet peeve with his performance occurs frequently in the first act, when he drops the word ‘a’ a little too often in a few sentences. Overall he’s passable as Wiseau, but I’ve seen and heard better impressions from fellow fans I’ve met over the years.
Dave Franco, on the other hand, was surprisingly strong in his portrayal of Greg Sestero, the all-american babyface Tommy aspires to be. I have been saying for years that Greg Sestero could have played himself in this movie, since the guy hasn’t aged a day since 2003, and while I still maintain that Sestero could have pulled it off, Dave Franco does a decent job with the material here. Again, for a film that moves so fast, there’s not a lot of time to really develop any characters. Surprisingly, Dave Franco works really well as a relatable, grounded guy, just as baffled by Tommy as the audience will be. He’s a great everyman and he makes the bond between Tommy and Greg more believable than I expected he could.
Despite being featured heavily in the film’s trailers and marketing, Seth Rogen doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this movie. He is certainly a great casting choice as Sandy Schklair though. His real-life counterpart appears in the documentary Room Full of Spoons, and the look and mannerisms are captured pretty perfectly by Seth. Schklair was the script supervisor who claims to have directed the majority of The Room, often responsible for keeping Tommy in check on set. In the context of The Disaster Artist, Schklair is only a small chapter in the overall story of Tommy and Greg, and so the movie treats him as such. The character certainly could have had more screentime in a longer movie that delves a bit deeper, but again, that’s not the kind of movie The Disaster Artist is.
There are plenty of other stand-out impressions and performances, including June Diane Raphael as Robyn Paris (aka Michelle), Ari Graynor as Juliette Danielle (aka Lisa), and Josh Hutcherson as Philip Haldiman (aka Denny). The problem is these performers barely get any attention in this whirlwind of a film. I hope we get a slower-paced extended cut that will explore these roles a little more. There’s just so much left out, including the Greg Ellery (Steven in The Room) subplot where he replaces Kyle Vogt’s character, Peter, without any explanation.
To the film’s credit, the costume design is spot on, setting the period well and matching the unique outfits characters wear in The Room. But it would be impossible to discuss this film without mentioning the incredibly bad make-up and hair choices. While James Franco looks great as Wiseau, with his face prosthetics and hair, it looks like they blew their budget on getting Tommy’s look right. Dave Franco’s glued-on beard just looks straight-up horrible, as if it could fall off his face if he turns his head too quickly. The beard is distracting to the point where it actually brings down the quality of Franco’s performance. The same can be said about Josh Hutcherson’s terrible Denny wig. I can’t tell if the filmmakers were intentionally trying to make the hairstyles look ‘bad’ or ‘fake’ to pay homage to The Room and the style of the late 90s, or if these are just awful mistakes. Either way, they’re jarringly out of place and noticeable in an otherwise great-looking production.
Seriously, it looks like they glued mangy pubic hair to his face.
The film closes with the recreation of iconic scenes from The Room, and for the most part, the attention to detail and performance are incredible. For a good deal of the final act, you’re essentially just watching highlights from the film-within-a-film. It’s fun to see the recreated scenes, but this crosses into the ‘laughing at Tommy’ territory. Not that I’m above that, I’ve been doing it for years, but I was hoping Disaster Artist would have a little bit more than that.
As an entertaining depiction of the story behind The Room, you definitely don’t want to miss this film. Whether you’ve seen Tommy Wiseau’s original or not, there’s plenty of fun to be had. But if you want the omitted facts and details behind the story, you should definitely read the original book and see Room Full of Spoons (which will hopefully have it’s video release sometime soon). Overall The Disaster Artist is about as great as a movie can be, but it only scratches the surface of a much deeper and layered story….
P.S. Don’t leave the theatre too quickly. There’s an after credit-scene….