The Disaster Artist (Franco, 2017)

I’m so glad I watched The Room before seeing this. The experience is ten times more riotous when you’re familiar with Tommy Wiseau’s peculiar tics and see them so brilliantly imitated by James Franco (in, without a doubt, his best performance since 127 Hours). The hulking gait! The heavy-lidded eyes! That pronounced European accent! That bizarre laugh! Oh what fun the elder Franco’s performance is, and how so much of the film’s success rests on him. A lesser Wiseau wouldn’t have worked. Nor would a mean-spirited film that existed only to mock this enigma. The Disaster Artist lets us appreciate this madness, because without The Room, it wouldn’t exist. It knows it, and so it chooses to lovingly embrace the phenomenon. My audience and I lapped it up like warm milk. It knows how to get to your funny bone, this film does.

Though I’ve not read Greg Sestero’s book (which the film is based on), I do feel the script glosses over a lot, and oversimplifies other details. The film, while a sterling comedy, isn’t as probing or insightful as I thought it would be, especially with regard to Wiseau and Sestero themselves. Dave Franco plays Sestero too much like a wet blanket at times, blandly acquiescing to Wiseau’s outrageous demands and then suddenly exploding at him without enough buildup to the moment. His relationship with Wiseau definitely had more friction, which the film curiously avoids covering.

As for Wiseau, the film does feature some scenes in which he oversteps boundaries and behaves more crassly than your average enfant terrible, but his darkest side (namely his misogynistic view of male-female relationships) isn’t plumbed at all. The only time it’s eluded to is the scene in which Wiseau-as-Johnny laughs at Sestero-as-Mark’s story about domestic abuse. Even then, it’s not so much that Wiseau laughs at the abuse, but that it’s laughter at an inappropriate moment—at a “sad” or “serious” story. Wiseau’s excuse is that human relations are crazy, and that’s that. Even the fundamental plot of The Room, which is about a mercurial woman who precipitates innocent Johnny’s downfall by cheating on him, is sort of chuckled away as Wiseau’s trashy idea for what a successful Hollywood movie should be. I get that Wiseau’s shtick is how unknowable he is, but I think The Disaster Artist is a little too forgiving of him, and is more interested in portraying him as a misunderstood genius than as someone who possesses troubling views about gender relations. It could have covered both areas equally and come out all the better for it.

As soon as this ended, I knew that this would make a fun double-bill with Brigsby Bear, a film which is also about a man seeking to carve out a place in the world through the art of filmmaking. This one is certainly funnier, though the latter may actually be the better film, because its character work is much stronger and more heartfelt. The Disaster Artist is more about circumstance and the unexpected virtues of vanity projects than it is about who the people at its center really are. It still comes off as a wildly entertaining ride—and one I’d happily take again, if only for James Franco’s exceptional performance—but it skirts around material that could have made it that much better.