I first heard of The Room late in 2010, some years after the film had debuted in Los Angeles and become a midnight movie sensation. I got it on DVD via Netflix, and my friend Matt and I watched it in his apartment in Washington Heights. It was one of those laugh-so-hard-you-can't-breathe experiences, exactly as inexplicably bad as I'd heard, but with an odd, insistent sensibility that animated it. I watched it again with my girlfriend a few weeks later, and still found it hilarious. I haven't seen it since, although I have seen a few clips online. I have also read Greg Sestero's memoir (along with Tom Bissell), The Disaster Artist.
All of which, of course, is to say that I'm probably the ideal candidate to appreciate James Franco's loving film version of The Disaster Artist. I've probably thought about it more than most people, but I'm not quite the Room-obsessive that some people -- including, it would seem, James Franco -- are. When I first heard about it, my instant thought was, "Well, that's an insane idea," but I was also pretty excited to see it. It's just such an odd story.
Both Francos (James as the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, and brother Dave as Greg Sestero) do an excellent job playing the mismatched pair, and the film spends a good third of the film establishing their odd camaraderie. Compared to the book, where it made up half the narrative, told in alternating chapters along with the making of The Room, the film gives the odd turns of their relationship relatively short shrift: the book's Tommy is needier, stranger, and slightly more unsettling than what we see in the movie. In condensing the book into a movie, a lot of the rougher edges have been sanded off, and the movie left me with a strong feeling of pity for Tommy's odd and seemingly self-willed delusions.
The film's animating spirit seems to be a truly wide-eyed appreciation for the "let's put on a show!" spirit of outsider artists, and it's not hard to see Franco's appreciation and palpable kinship with Wiseau and others. It's fascinating the way Franco-as-Wiseau can swing from berating a nude actress in the most tactless way possible to a naked vulnerability when the powerful sense of confidence drops away and we see the Tommy who's on the outside looking in, even of his own success.