“You had to be there,” is a desperate phrase to save a dying anecdote.
The Disaster Artist is that in spades, a retelling of the very funny joke that is The Room, told badly.
The Room’s backstory is incredible: a botched cinematic vanity project by a Lizard King Eastern European with money, yet no talent, to burn. The finished project, though budgeted at $6 million, looks more like $6,000, a laughable melange of mixed up set-pieces, hallucinatory exposition and green screens. And auteur Tommy Wiseau was a complete ass on the set, an angry hack perfectionist Stanley Kubrick who lives and breathes Stanley Kowalksi.
So, a movie about the world’s worst movie seems like fertile ground for storytelling.
The Disaster Artist stumbles out of the gate, with a montage of talking heads yammering on about the lasting impact of The Room, a pointless cover-your-bases bone to throw those who’ve yet to see it, not to mention stylistically, grossly out of place.
Star/director* James Franco wisely smooths over some of the real Tommy Wiseau’s rough edges, trying to establish Wiseau’s friendship with collaborator Greg Sestero (It’s not hard to see how the twosome hit it off, after all, they were both star-seekers and one had a bottomless well of cash to draw from).
However, the bulk of The Disaster Artist is a Tommy antigen followed by reaction after reaction. This is the case whether it’s Greg, Greg’s mom, the cast, the crew, the public. (some of these are effective, like Wiseau’s ostentious line rehearsals to the captive audience of a diner). Pretty soon though, Tommy reactions grow tedious, and faces of random incredulity blend together.
Sure, the details of Wiseau’s personal life are shrouded in mystery, but even coffee shop cranks have a backstory that’s more interesting than merely a means of eliciting reaction.
What we’re left with is all external, and no internal reflection.
The Disaster Artist combines Walk the Line’s mimicry with Scary Movie’s point-and-recognize humor.
There is a mildly entertaining rehash of what made The Room great, the infamous “I did not hit her” umpteenth take, and of course, the out-of-the-stratosphere cancer diagnosis exposition. But it doesn’t live up to (or is it down to?) the weirdly lovable and hopelessly stupid source material.
** (out of 5)