Towards the end of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, we are treated to clips of the film’s premiere. This is an excuse for Franco (who also produced and stars) to re-enact scenes from The Room (the film this film is about) with his own cast. It’s one of the most shallow, pandering, attention-demanding things I’ve ever seen.
The Disaster Artist is based on a book written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The book in turn is about Sestero’s experience filming The Room (billed as the Citizen Kane of bad movies) and his friendship with the film’s writer/director/producer/star, Tommy Wiseau. This Escher-like cycle of a film about a book which is about a film will only be complete when Wiseau publishes an account of his experience on the press tour for Franco’s movie.
Make no mistake, The Room is terrible. But it’s one of those “so bad it’s good” films that has garnered cult-hero status among many, including myself, my friends, James Franco, and his friends. The ultimate issue is that Franco’s adaptation substitutes smugness for the book’s underlying soul. The making of The Room is a story about a man with lots of money and no qualifications who decides to make it in Hollywood and will not be told “No.” It’s also the story of his best friend, torn between helping his friend realize a dream and saving his own career from the depths of mediocrity this dream is doomed. The film has bits of that story almost because it has to and panders to fans (Roomies?) for the majority of the 105–minute run time.
The film’s Sestero (Dave Franco) has little in the way of character and exists as a straight man to Wiseau’s (James Franco) absurder-than-life persona. There’s an undercurrent of possessive jealousy on Wiseau’s part that is neither directly addressed nor resolved. Greg’s girlfriend Amber (Allison Brie) is relegated to a knowing wink-line (“what if [The Room] is really bad?”) before being dismissed off-screen; her nastily poignant line “I liked you better when you were poor,” from the book is missing here. Instead we get heavye-handed references to The Room itself. Greg and Tommy’s third and fourth scenes together are in a diner and tossing a football around in Golden Gate Park, respectively. Tommy’s first scene is him delivering an over-the-top Tennessee Williams monologue that references/copies this scene from the source material. Tommy and Greg even have a heart-to-heart on the roof of their apartment, very akin to those of Johnny and Mark (their characters). Art does not imitate life here — none of these things happened in the book. Instead, this is smug hackery imitating earnest hackery.
Franco’s film is the epitome of smug Hollywood elitism: ape something popular while using the greater resources at your disposal to ostensibly make a superior product. Not only do we get the aforementioned shot-for-shot copies of The Room‘s most laughable scenes with Franco and Co. subbed in for the original cast, the credits offer us side-by-side comparisons between original scenes and Franco’s fugazis. What is the point of this? For that matter, what is the point of parading names like Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone, and Zac Effron through this film? Why have the real Tommy Wiseau appear in an incoherent post credits scene with Franco’s portrayal? Is James Franco really trying to prove he’s as good a director as Tommy Wiseau? If so, he fails. He pleads for audience laughter and validation, something Wiseau literally earned without trying. The irony of perennial Hollywood insiders making a movie about struggling to be accepted by Hollywood (winking at the camera all the while) is borderline nauseating. Franco’s film lacks any artistry; what we’re left with is disaster.