DECEMBER 27, 2017
Have you ever seen “The Room”?
I hadn’t either, so I decided to Netflix the legendary 2003 midnight movie a couple of weeks ago so that I could see what all the fuss was about. Long considered by many to be the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, I entered “The Room” with low expectations, but even I was not prepared with what I witnessed.
What’s remarkable about “The Room” (written, produced, directed and starring Tommy Wiseau) is that in every scene, every single decision that Tommy made was wrong. The wrong cut, the wrong camera angle, the wrong line reading…it’s simply uncanny. If Tommy had simply flipped a coin, he would have made the right choice at least part of the time. The cumulative effect of all this incompetence is not simply jaw-dropping, but prompts the giggles that this film receives whenever it’s played.
I thought there was a chance that I might react with a “Hey, it’s not that bad,” but no. From beginning to end, it’s history-making dreadful.
Enter James Franco, who announced two years ago that he planned to make a movie about the making of “The Room.” At the time, I thought that the idea was kinda cruel — Tommy has suffered enough with “The Room” without James Franco stomping all over to make fun of it.
Well, the result of Franco’s labors, “The Disaster Artist,” is now in theaters, and, much to my shock, it is an absolute delight. Yes, it does make fun of “The Room” (how could it not?), but the tone it takes with the making of the film is downright affectionate, as if Franco wanted to send a Valentine to Tommy. It also contains Franco’s best performance in years.
The origins of “The Room” began in an acting class in 1998 where timid Greg Sistero (Dave Franco) befriends Tommy, who invites him to go to Hollywood to make it in the movies.
With their careers going nowhere, Greg suggests that they write their own movie. So Tommy heads off to write “The Room,” which he considers to be a classic triangle of romance where he is the hero. It isn’t a great romantic triangle, but he doesn’t know that yet.
In fact, Tommy doesn’t know a lot of things. After mysteriously coming up with the money to start production of “The Room,” he quickly demonstrates he has no idea how to make a movie. When procuring the equipment for shooting his film, he buys rather than rents it, as all professionals do. He decides to shoot in both 35-millimeter and digital, totally unnecessary, thus doubling the budget. The script is a shambles, and Tommy has no idea he can’t act — his first scene requires 67 takes.
The catastrophic filming is where “The Disaster Artist” and Franco’s direction really kick in. Tommy really thinks he knows more than anyone else in the room, even actual two film professionals — script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen) and director of photography Raphael Smadja (Paul Scheer). The two pros can see “The Room” unraveling so they have to quietly take the reins without the now-megalomaniac Tommy ever noticing.
What’s wonderful about Franco’s performance in these scenes you’re repelled by Tommy’s mistreatment of his crew and cast (even Dave) while still at the same time feeling for the guy, who may just be starting to wonder whether he can pull off his longtime dream. It’s a tricky performance, but Franco pulls it off beautifully.
You don’t need to see “The Room” to appreciate “The Disaster Artist” — in the final credits, Franco shows how he filmed various scenes from “The Room” for this film side-by-side with how Wiseau did it for the original, and it’s impressively close. But “The Disaster Artist” is more than just an homage to a terrible film. It stands on its own as a funny and insightful look at the creative process and how a dream is sometimes not enough.