(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) The question of whether good art can arise from bad art is sophomoric (of course it can; just as surely as good art can come from bad things) but it does seem to be central to the critical reaction to The Disaster Artist. It is, after all, a successful dramatization of the making of the terrible movie The Room. If you haven’t seen The Room, well, you really don’t have to: It’s an incoherent romantic drama that has become a modern ironic reference for fans of bad movies. The reasons why it’s bad are far more interesting than the film itself, and The Disaster Artist correctly focuses on that aspect of the story in showing how a young actor (Greg Sestero, who authored the book on which this film is based) is befriended by an enigmatic man (Tommy Wisseau) who somehow has the money to finance an entire film. Alas, when means exceed talent, strange things can happen and so it is that The Room is a singular vision from a man who doesn’t seem to be entirely human. The Disaster Artist hits its stride when it portrays the real-life story of how The Room was shot, with the crew practically rebelling against the director and yet trudging along despite the results. The Disaster Artist can practically stand alone as a filmmaker’s insider movie of what can happen during shooting. Fortunately, it’s as funny as the event themselves, as we see the Franco brothers (James and Dave) play off each other, with some assistance from Seth Rogen, Alison Brie and half a dozen cameos. The narrative doesn’t always correspond to the real-life story, but director James Franco’s recreation of The Room‘s ineptness is striking and, as the credits sequence shows, matches The Room‘s footage really well. It’s a fascinating story, ridiculous and yet endearing at once. After all: Tommy Wisseau got to make a movie seen by millions … which is more than almost all of us can claim. Now the terrible The Room has spawned the Oscar-nominated The Disaster Artist … a remarkable feat even by Hollywood standards.
(On DVD, October 2003) I didn’t want to see Tommy Wisseau’s The Room as much as I was morbidly curious about it. Having recently acquired some kind of cult notoriety as one of the worst movies ever made, The Room has spawned a few Internet memes and toured the continent in special audience-participation screenings à la Rocky Horror Picture Show. Alas, the first thing that comes to mind while watching The Room is that we don’t have the cult classics we used to have. Amateurish and incompetent in nearly every facet of moviemaking, The Room has the feel of a vanity project gone horribly wrong, possibly thanks to a producer/writer/director/actor (Wisseau) unable to tell between good and bad, and unwilling to listen to saner heads. Pick an aspect of movies, and The Room sucks at it. The premise presupposes entities without recognizable human emotions. Dialogues feel like the first draft of a first student project. The tone of the film changes from one line to another. The direction is flat. The acting is uncontrolled, starting from Wisseau’s constant ha-has. Even the scene blocking is worse than the average local theater company. The pacing grinds to a halt whenever it hits one of the four too-lengthy soft-core love scenes. Subplots are raised and then never mentioned again. Whatever nice things one may say about the stock San Francisco exteriors are destroyed by their tone-deaf usage as scene transitions. And so on. The issue here isn’t that the film is terrible: I’m sure that there are plenty of other terrible movies buried away somewhere. The real wonder here is The Room’s unexplainable notoriety as an Internet phenomenon. Granted, the so-bad-it’s-good crowd self-selects itself out of any kind of artistic rationale. Still, the fairest way to describe the movie is dull: I started watching it with the best of intentions, and eventually idly started surfing the web as the rest of the movie played without too much surprise or variance in quality. At least I can now place “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” or “Oh, hi Mark” in their proper, incomprehensible context. Given that Wisseau is riding the film’s newfound popularity as an incompetent comedy by showing it in theaters, those of you still convinced that The Room can’t be missed will have trouble renting it or even buying it online; all I can say is that this is the universe’s way of telling you that you’re better off doing something else.