The Disaster Artist, 2017
I was concerned that I would enjoy The Disaster Artist at the expense of Tommy Wiseau. From The Room and the Tommy Explains It All series on YouTube to the strange accent (that he denies) and unusual style - Tommy reminds me of the new kid in grade school who didn’t totally fit in. He doesn’t NOT fit in but there’s something about him that might make one keep some distance. I was surprised to find myself feeling both frustrated and inspired at the notion that The Room has garnered such cult status that a “making of” movie was made starring the Franco brothers. Frustrated because The Room is a film that wouldn’t be one we’ve all heard of if it was just regular bad but because it’s SO bad people love it. Inspired because, like many of us in the indie filmmaking world, we are fueled primarily by passion, by a desire to create – and Wiseau’s passion and desire to be a lead actor led him to fund his own feature film. Plus he didn’t just record it digitally - he used 35mm film too! That’s a crazy amount of money to drop on a film that isn’t a sure thing.
Wiseau as the character in The Disaster Artist is a combination of cringe and motivation. He drinks an extraordinary amount of RedBull, wears numerous belts at one time, and is overdramatic in his acting classes. At one point he tells Sestero – who admires his intensity and dedication - “It’s not luck – you have to be the best you can be and never give up.” That’s something we can all follow whether your dream is to be an attorney, a documentarian, a parent, a teacher, a journalist, whatever! There’s on-set turmoil from the supporting cast and crew with the cast suffering through scenes with no water or AC under the hot set lights and crew that doesn’t understand the intention behind doing things the way Wiseau is - like making a stage replica of an accessible rooftop that exists in real life – but they’re paid well enough that many of them continue with the shoot that never ends.
Perhaps one of the things that made me the most uncomfortable was wondering whether or not Wiseau was “in” on the joke. Yes, he participated in interviews with James Franco (who plays him in this film) and he gave his approval – but I kept wondering “Does he know he’s being made fun of?” When we see The Room screen at a theater in Los Angeles the audience doesn’t enjoy it as a drama but rather as a comedy. Hurt that a room full of strangers is laughing at his story – much of which inevitably carries personal experiences (as with most screenwriters) – Wiseau leaves the screening only to have Sestero hype him back up and realize that while the film isn’t receiving the intended reaction, people are enjoying it in some manner, and isn’t that what matters? I can understand the sense of – something like – betrayal felt by Wiseau when you pour your heart into a project and it’s perceived in a completely different way. It must have felt something like heartbreak.
Sestero’s role in the whole story is interesting as well. One on hand he seems like the kind of person who is using Wiseau and on the other he seems like he truly respects and admires. Sestero is basically a sidekick to Wiseau and I’m curious to read the book he wrote that this is based on to get a better sense of his feelings regarding the process, the individual, and what happened to his career dreams considering he hasn’t done much since The Room.