In 2003, Tommy Wiseau released “The Room,” a ferociously passionate melodrama that he wrote, directed, produced and starred in. His hope was to gain Hollywood’s recognition, and he succeeded, but not as he intended.
This weekend, “The Disaster Artist” hit the screen of the Uptown Theatre. The movie, directed by James Franco (who also stars as Wiseau), is based on the memoir of the same name by Greg Sestero (who plays ‘Mark’ in “The Room”).
The movie chronicles Sestero’s friendship with Wiseau, their lack of success as Hollywood actors and subsequent decision to make their own movie. Franco, who plays Tommy Wiseau/‘Johnny,’ would be unrecognizable if everyone didn’t already know he’s the focus of the movie.
But that’s the point of “The Disaster Artist,” given that Wiseau is by far the most interesting part of “The Room.” His hunger for stardom gave him the ego of a socialite, but it didn’t give him talent. Regardless, he took the liberty to make a feature-length picture and screen it in front of all of Hollywood.
According to “The Disaster Artist,” the expense of making “The Room” neared $6 million, but in the week that it opened (in a single theater, by the way), it grossed a whopping $1,800.
The returns on Wiseau’s investment paid off eventually. The film has since gathered a cult following. People across the world attend regular midnight screenings, most often due to morbid curiosity: Can the movie really be as terrible as everyone says it is?
The answer is yes.
And yet its bizarre popularity lends it some cultural merit. That’s where James Franco comes in with “The Disaster Artist,” toting half of today’s favorite comedians and actors, including his long-time compatriot Seth Rogen, his younger brother (and co-star) Dave Franco (Greg/‘Mark’).
Franco opens the movie with sardonic endorsements of “The Room” by a handful of actors — Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars") and Adam Scott (Ben Wyatt in “Parks and Rec”). This sets the stage for “The Disaster Artist” to match its subject in absurdity, and it somehow manages to feel unaware of itself despite its meta-commentary.
Embedded with jokes both overt and subtle, “The Disaster Artist” succeeds in its goal — to extend the humorous scope around “The Room” — though it’s still unclear why either ever needed to exist.
“The Disaster Artist” is both thoughtful and mindless, creative and routine. It follows a traditional movie formula: two heroes, a dream, obstacles that impede the dream and eventual resolution with a slight twist.
But even that formula is wildly creative compared to “The Room,” so for its purpose, “The Disaster Artist” achieves its goal.
It may not be until the close of the movie that you notice what a phenomenal job Ari Graynor does playing Juliette Danielle/‘Lisa’. But when you hear the two say their lines in tandem, you recognize just how much work went into “The Disaster Artist” in its recreation of such a bad movie.
If you haven’t seen “The Room,” though, you’ll miss many of the jokes in “The Disaster Artist.” Solve this problem by seeing “The Room” at midnight at the Uptown this weekend.
Three questions that you probably had after seeing “The Room,” and ones you will still have after seeing “The Disaster Artist”:
1. Where does Tommy come from, since it’s clearly not New Orleans?
2. Where does he get the money to make this movie?
3. How old is he, anyway?
What does it say about our popular culture that “The Room,” which audiences initially received as a joke, now warrants a half-mocking movie about its production? Does it say that we need more art? Comedy? Maybe to stop taking entertainment so seriously?
One thing is certain: Wealth does not guarantee valuable artistic creations, whether you’re Tommy Wiseau or Zack Snyder.