I struggle to subscribe to the concept of a film being so bad that it’s good, because I love film. I watched The Room, an unequivocally bad film, for the first time last night and got some form of enjoyment out of it. But the film’s prosperity and longevity (and my enjoyment) didn’t come to pass because The Room is so bad that it’s good but rather because it’s so bad it becomes something other than a film; a different art form. I doubt many of Tommy Wiseau’s ardent fans would claim that they watch and enjoy The Room with the same outlook with which they generally watch films they enjoy.
Those ardent fans are numerous. The story of Wiseau, a man who you wouldn’t believe is real if he wasn’t, and his film, The Room, might be an atypical success story but Wiseau’s hopes of success in relation to the outcome of Wiseau’s success aren’t atypical in a town like Hollywood. Wiseau wanted fame and he got it, for the wrong reasons. If Sunset Boulevard had continued beyond the credits, we might have seen Norma Desmond rekindle her fame, like she wanted, but as the murderer of a young screenwriter rather than a movie star. And James Franco, a man who undoubtedly has an understanding of poorly received art, has now made a well-received movie about the making of Wiseau’s ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies.’ The Disaster Artist represents a high point for both Franco and Wiseau’s directorial careers.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) dreams of becoming an actor but lacks the talent and the confidence to commit. He meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) at one of his acting classes and is struck by Wiseau’s unabashed confidence. He strikes up a friendship with Wiseau, hoping that some of that confidence rubs off. The establishment of this friendship is questionable, considering that despite his apparent confidence, Wiseau is a troubling lunatic in almost every other regard.
The two move to Los Angeles together to pursue a career in acting. Tommy seemingly has unlimited funds and allows Greg to stay rent-free in his L.A. apartment. His money, like his age and his country of origin, go unexplained. Tommy doesn’t like being asked about them. They struggle to find their feet in their chosen career path and so Tommy decides that the only way about it is to simply make their own film and put themselves in it.
Why Franco may get away with it is because he undoubtedly has an enormous regard for Wiseau and Wiseau’s achievement in making The Room. Franco’s film isn’t an investigation of Wiseau. His mysterious past remains a mystery and his means of funding a film with a budget in excess of six million dollars is touched upon but not dwelled upon. Franco appreciates Wiseau as an artist, more than I do, and recognises achievement in The Room when most of us simply see the strangeness of Wiseau’s success through failure. Franco’s Wiseau is a joke but he’s also a man and one of Franco’s most significant accomplishments in his performance as Wiseau is that he expresses Wiseau’s humanity in spite of Wiseau’s estranged behaviour.
Considering how extraordinary the phenomenon it was for The Room to find success and considering the exceptional figure behind that circumstance, The Disaster Artist has disappointingly little to say in regards to either. Whatever continues to draw hordes of people to midnight screening of the film, it remains unexplored, ultimately rendering a tale about the extraordinary something more ordinary albeit enjoyably compelling. The best films about Hollywood understand the town’s allures and its failings but The Disaster Artist doesn’t discern that Tommy Wiseau and The Room have little to do with the actual opportunities and pitfalls of Hollywood.
James Franco has directed quite a few bad films in the past and none of them went on to become cult classics. Most dreamers don’t have mysterious fortunes to dip into to make their dreams a reality like Tommy Wiseau does. The Disaster Artist is a success story because Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau did make their dreams a reality, sort of. Franco just doesn’t care enough about the sort of.