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Arts in Review

Terrible is better than mediocre: The Disaster Artist



The Disaster Artist isn’t a bad movie, but it’s a lot less fun than the really bad movie it’s about.

The film documents the creation of The Room, a 2003 film that is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, but is held up as a shining beacon of the “so bad it’s good” kind of movie — it’s cheesy, overdramatic, wildly inconsistent, and just a lot of fun to watch and laugh at with friends. The Room has developed a very dedicated following, and is still screened in theatres around the world, becoming a cult classic akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Room’s co-star, Greg Sestero, released a book in 2013 documenting the incredibly unusual production behind the film, and his personal relationship and interactions with The Room’s writer/director/producer/star, the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, a man whose peculiar characteristics cannot reasonably be described in a written medium. From that book came a film of the same name, The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring James Franco as Wiseau, with Dave Franco as Sestero.

The new film is built solidly on the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero, beginning with their first meeting, and chronicling their sometimes-bumpy relationship over the five years between that point and the release of The Room. The two have a clear chemistry (as one would hope to see from a pair of movie star brothers), and both do a commendable job of making the audience forget they’re not watching the real Wiseau and Sestero, though James’ generally excellent impersonation of Wiseau’s unique accent (which seemed to be the main selling point of the film pre-release) is not always 100 per cent believable.

It’s that marketing that may have betrayed the film, however. Trailers gave away most of the beats in the plot, and a marketing strategy that played up the humour framed the movie as a comedy, and while it certainly had funny moments, they were mostly derived from the same few jokes: Tommy Wiseau is strange and controlling, Tommy Wiseau doesn’t know how to interact with people, Tommy Wiseau won’t tell anyone about his past.

That last note, in particular, is a tricky one: the real Wiseau financed the expensive production of The Room himself, but is secretive about the source of his income, where he’s from, and even how old he is. While the film of course couldn’t reveal those things without simply making them up, it made them a point of contention. More than just a recurring joke, they were built up as an underlying mystery, so when the film ends without resolving them, it feels anticlimactic. That, combined with the fact that every audience member no doubt knows the current “bad-movie” status of The Room, means that the entire final act’s drama lands with a dull thud. That none of the characters (besides maybe Wiseau) are fleshed out beyond basic motivations doesn’t help much either.

That said, where the film does shine is when it (after a long build up) gets to showing the production of The Room. It almost shifts into a behind-the-scenes documentary that feels authentic, showing the conversations that led up to some of The Room’s most infamous scenes, and highlights the doubts of everyone involved (besides Wiseau). However, is watching a scene be constructed more satisfying than just watching the real thing again? Maybe once, if you’ve seen The Room a few times already, but it’s hard to imagine The Disaster Artist having anywhere near the same staying power as the original.

Ultimately, The Disaster Artist is a piece of reverent worship for another piece of art (even opening with testimonials from Hollywood figures about the impact of The Room), and it relies on the fondness people have for that original film. It would have a hard time standing on its own for viewers who hadn’t seen The Room, and for those that have and enjoyed the experience, it may entertain as a behind-the-scenes look filled with trivia and information, but as a film, it’s not bad enough to be “good” like its muse, but it’s also not good enough to be good.

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