The first thing that can be said about this film is that The Disaster Artist cannot really be understood without seeing The Room first. At the same time, The Room also can’t be fully understood without reading the Disaster Artist.
I saw The Room sometime in the year 2010 when I was still in college. It had taken me awhile to get around to it, but by that time any self respecting American pop culture buff was being required to watch it as a right of passage. I became obsessed with that movie and my fandom can be proven by the two videos that I posted lauding both the film and the tell-all book that surrounded it.
The Room has been quoted as being the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, but I’d argue that it may also go down in history as the height of transgressive cinema of the early 21st century. It was a perfect storm of bad acting, cinematography, and writing despite having an incredibly simple plot: a soon-to-be-married woman trying to hide an affair from her fiance. It was also under absurd management by being also produced, directed, written, stared in as the main lead, and solely financed by the man who became the enigmatic legend behind The Room itself: Tommy Wiseau.
I was one of the few crazy enough to buy a signed copy of The Disaster Artist when it came out in the fall of 2013, and I was even most ecstatic when the book got adapted into a film. Now that all that exposition and self-indulgent fan nostalgia diary nonsense is out of the way, I can finally tell you how good the movie actually is. But first…
The Disaster Artist follows the author of the tell-all book and friend to Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero as it takes place five years prior to the making of The Room. It starts with the then struggling 19-year-old, Greg, a self-conscious actor trying to make it in Los Angeles, meeting Tommy Wiseau in the same acting class together. The movie starts off in the same way that the books does and more or less follows their journey together ending at the night of the premiere of Tommy’s film.
Throughout the movie you see the struggles of both aspiring actors. For Tommy, a man who is clearly much older and less talented, becomes the fodder for the audience’s second-hand embarrassment as he blunders and fails through the grueling and punishing process of being rejected by Hollywood along with his eccentric wardrobe, mumble vampire accent, and ego-inducing shield of self-denial. Greg is juxtaposed as the too-self-aware, but slowly succeeding actor who initially latches onto Tommy’s relentless optimism and finds that positivist attitude to be the push he needed to succeed.
However, this is short lived as both men reach a brick wall in their budding careers as actors (Tommy’s fall coming much sooner than Greg’s) and are forced to realize that they may never be able to make it in Hollywood. It is then that the bizarre seed is planted inside Tommy’s mind to simply create and star in his own film and have Greg be cast as a major co-star.
It is here that we then see the main focus of the film and the book come to life as the audience becomes enveloped in the behind the scenes look as to how this production beat all the odds and managed to even see the light of day at all.
For fans of the Disaster Artist, they get a taste of the book’s major highlights in the film such as: the insane first encounter with Greg meeting Tommy, the funny-but-embarrassing script readings in the Italian restaurant, the big move to LA, Tommy’s flame out and eventual writing of the screenplay, The Room’s funny and perverse actor auditions, The Chris R show down, Tommy barking orders at crew members while naked and doing a sex scene on set, the production crew mutiny, Greg’s falling out with Tommy, the insane ad campaigns, the lying, the manipulations, the rejections, the redemption, and eventually the premiere itself.
For fans of The Room, they also get proper fan service with the actors in the Disaster Artist re-enacting real scenes from The Room verbatim all the way down to the sets and costumes, which gives the film an added authenticity to the source material as well as a meta vibe to the whole experience.
Overall, it conveys the essence of the book. However, having said that, the film does have it’s problems. Firstly, since it’s only ninety-minutes long, certain parts from the book had to be cut, but it also made the film come off as being incredibly rushed. For those like myself who read the book, it felt like whiplash watching whole chapters being condensed to minutes or even seconds on screen while being forced to endure the film’s need to hit the hyper-drive button as quickly as possible in order to move on to the next plot point. I also thought that it didn’t provide a good enough transitional period for the audience to slowly see Greg’s growing resentment over Tommy and his ego alienating Greg, while Tommy’s jealousy over Greg’s “Hollywood success” becomes an even larger wedge in the friendship. Greg’s depiction in the film is also too optimistic during the filming scenes of The Room, lacking the self-awareness that was made clear in the book as Greg describes in detail how much he grew to hate being on set with Tommy and knowing that The Room would go on to become a massive flop in theaters (well before it’s eventual rise into cult film status).
These issues can be ignored, but what obviously can’t be denied is the influences and forces that guided Greg, Tommy, The Room, The Disaster, and film adaptation. At it’s core, both the book and the film are a lesson in the struggles of making it as an artist in today’s modern world and the unintended consequences of never giving up on one’s dreams. As a writer, I often find myself wondering if my work will ever be recognized, far from the worries of any established artist wondering if they’re being taken seriously or treated as a joke after hitting that lucky, one-in-a-million chance of getting famous. However, as Tommy and Greg soon find out, whether it’s success, in film, art, or writing fame is earned for reasons and circumstances that often out of one’s own control; and with that fame comes with it it’s own kind of baggage.