Essays, Not Rants! 304: Artistry in Disaster
The Room is an awful movie and I adore it. It's terribly made, replete with an incoherent plot and some truly questionable acting decisions, but it also manages to cross that elusive line of terribleness into wonder. It's a movie that makes you ask how on earth could something like this have been made as you delight in the fact that it was. It is also a movie best enjoyed at a midnight screening with a multitude of plastic forks and having imbibed an adult beverage or three.
Like I said, it's a delight.
Part of the fun of the movie is, of course, Tommy Wiseau, the writer/director/producer/funder/lead actor. Him of indeterminate age and untraceable accent. In an ordinary world he wouldn't be the face of a romantic drama (turned comedy by happenstance), and yet, here he is, at the forefront of his realized vision. And by vision I mean a fever dream that borders on misanthropy. The making of the film is mythic, with stories from the set describing a filmmaker with too much money who didn’t know what he was doing.
In any case, it’s kinda hard to sum up The Room in all of its absurdity and unintentional hilarity, but needless to say, it’s totally deserving of its cult status.
Which is what makes the film The Disaster Artist so odd. Based on a book about the making of The Room, The Disaster Artist dramatizes the production of The Room, showing off some of the set’s idiosyncrasies and also zeroing in on the friendship-of-sorts between Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero. It’s a perfectly decent movie in its own right, but its choice of subject matter is where things get hairy.
Because the production of The Room wasn’t really a great thing. Wiseau was a draconian director which, if reality was remotely like how it’s portrayed in the film, created a really not-great set to be on. Yet it’s really funny to watch, especially as something of a dark comedy. The problem is, Wiseau’s presented as being kinda heroic, which isn’t quite bad, it just makes it a little harder to laugh at. Especially because in The Disaster Artist’s revisionist take, The Room’s premiere is met with immediate laughter and applause and Tommy quickly revels in the so-good-it’s-bad status (in reality, the film was reviled and only later became a cult classic; Wiseau’s embrace of that came even later). In essence, The Disaster Artist is about a funny-but-tortured filmmaker who puts his cast and crew through the worst to make Art. Which feels overly simplified.
It doesn’t seem much better if you look at the movie as one about friendship. Tommy and Greg are friends, friends who promise to push themselves further than they’ve gone before in pursuit of their dreams. Yet, within the context of the film (and maybe real life too), Tommy effectively sabotages any chance of Greg’s success outside of the film. And when Greg calls him out on it, Tommy gaslights him into staying friends. Sure, it’s funny, but The Disaster Artist’s basis on a true story moves some of it into the realm of the uncomfortable. Because for all its talk about dreams of success, the real life ending to the story is that neither Greg Sestero nor the rest of the cast went on to any level of filmmaking success.
Maybe The Disaster Artist would have worked better as a really funny tragedy, maybe if the movie had some breathing space after the premiere where Tommy made amends and tried to become a better person before getting his catharsis of being a 'beloved' filmmaker. As it is it feels… odd.
I enjoyed The Disaster Artist well enough, and it is a very funny movie. But it falls into the category of a movie about making movies that’s so in love with the idea of making movies that making movies is the ultimate absolution and apotheosis. Which is a bummer, because The Room is at its heart, so much more. Well, maybe less. I’m still not sure. But it’s sure something else alright.