Greg Sestero’s 2013 memoir, The Disaster Artist, tells the story of his unlikely friendship with Tommy Wiseau, a bizarre and mysterious man more than two decades Sestero’s senior. Both men dream of movie stardom, and the book centers on the making of The Room, Wiseau’s self-financed and uniquely terrible feature film, which later inspired an enduring cult following. Anyone reading the memoir is probably already a fan of The Room, and hoping to gain some insight into how Wiseau’s extraterrestrial perspective came to be. After more than 15 years of friendship, Sestero’s own curiosity has yet to be satisfied, and while he does shed light on some of the experiences that shaped his strange friend, he ultimately focuses more on deconstructing Wiseau’s enigmatic appeal:
Sitting there in the theater, I let myself feel proud of Tommy, who believed his movie was a first-rate emotional drama that contained all his most profound ideas about life. In that regard, The Room was Tommy, and is Tommy—a man who remains the grandest and most sincere dreamer I’ve ever known. This is, ultimately, what redeems his immensely conflicted and complicated darkness. In the end, Tommy made me realize that you decide who you become. He also made me realize what a mixed blessing that can be.
James Franco’s film adaptation of The Disaster Artist attempts similar ends but settles for being a hokey follow-your-dreams parable. More than anything, like a midnight screening of The Room, it’s a costume party, and fans are meant to delight in seeing their favorite characters remade in Hollywood stars’ images, outfitted in perplexingly appalling wigs. Franco’s own Tommy Wiseau costume and impersonation are undeniably extraordinary, but he has the privilege of playing a real-life cartoon character whose most bankable trait is his inscrutability. That Franco’s is a more professional take on the same weird character that’s inhabited monthly by hundreds of midnight movie fanatics is not in itself a cause for celebration. Nor are reiterations of the most obvious aspects of what makes The Room unintentionally funny. Is the humor in Wiseau’s skewed understanding of sexual anatomy, whose blatant clumsiness has provoked audience guffaws for years, somehow made fresh when Seth Rogen points it out?
Plenty of fans of The Room—as well as people who have never heard of it—will love The Disaster Artist, and that’s fine, but I personally don’t see the point of the costume party. James Franco may have captured Tommy Wiseau’s essence, but Wiseau already did that himself years ago, in a delightfully awful movie called The Room.