Here’s what I’m gonna say. The Room is a godawful movie, it deserves its reputation as one of the best of the worst. But I think in it its own muddled incompetent way it speaks to the absurdity of life, the mostly millennial aged fans of the joint are the ones who have grown into adulthood in a world that has lost its form. The frameworks of our lives lack the comfortable definition they once did. Like how midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show felt and feel like outbursts of collective queerness, a screening of The Room feels like an expression of nihilist absurdity.
Which is to say that The Room has got more to say about society than The Disaster Artist, the films feel comparatively human too. In the mid-nineties two mismatched friends arrive in LA ready to follow their dreams of stardom. The good looking, all-American kid Greg played by Dave Franco; and his strange, indeterminably aged, pal of undetermined ethnicity (he says he’s from New Orleans but…). You can tell from the off that neither of them have much chance of making it.
I can imagine the temptation of playing Tommy, he’s this mystery, this anomaly. He does not walk or talk like a human, his face feels like a rough approximation of something real. He’s a capital C Character and James Franco, taking on the dual roles of acting and directing loses himself in the dude. The performance is physically accomplished I suppose, but Franco trusts that it is in the enigma of this man that the interest lies. He does not interrogate the role, he does not excavate the character, there is nothing truly revelatory. We do not have a better sense of the man at the end of the film than we did at the beginning.
Which is a tragedy, not that the script gives him much help. It’s hesitance to be about the procedural act of making of this film leads it elaborating at length on the circumstances that led these two friends to the set. But it too isn’t interested in why. It’s not interested in their dreams or motivations or even the singular basis of their friendship. Why do these two men latch onto each other? Why do they keep saying yes to a plan that seems to be luring them both progressively towards their failure?
It’s just enough that they have a dream apparently, one which propels them through this strangely formless film which is so obsessed by the gravitational pull of a relationship that it cannot comprehend. Tommy goes to his acting workshops and Greg fails at auditions and gets a girlfriend. All these though are just asides, they feel trivial and meaningless, a waste of time from the part which clearly interests Franco as a director. But the man ain’t confrontational enough to make any of it work. There’s continual gesturing at Tommy’s sexuality and manipulative tendencies but Franco is unable to construct a scene with genuine malice.
Until we get to the time on set, the making of the movie itself. It’s here pretty much an hour in that the film comes alive, in this strange confused way. It is torn, created by people who love the film, who want to celebrate in its contradictory nature. It wants you to laugh at the decisions as they are being made in the same way that one will laugh at them later. Great comic actors like Seth Rogen, Hannibal Buress, Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer who provide a live riff track of the filming itself.
While at the same time, it wants to portray the truth. Actors and crew abused by this increasingly unhinged and tyrannical director. The walk outs, the screaming, the struggle. It’s quite interesting to watch, the film totally and honestly believes both versions of itself and sees no issue in presenting them side by side. We roll from an argument before the shooting of a sex scene in which Tommy denigrates and body shames the actress he’s sharing a scene with, straight into the crew cracking wise about the man’s hairy arsecrack.
While the entire rest of the running time feels like so much nothing, they’re all of a sudden trying to squeeze two movies into thirty minutes in a frenzy of confused joy. It is so happy to be here at last. It is the promise of The Room come into their lives and it feels like everyone on set is charged with it. It don’t work, the cast suddenly explodes out in a mess of recognisable faces and cameos who get nothing to do except be there and be wasted. Side effects of a joint that don’t know whether it wants to be goofy or mean.
The film ends, as it sorta must at the movie’s premier. Typically we spend this whole scene with Tommy, more time for Franco to do his thing. I’d given up on him by then, we were never going to learn anything about the man, the real Tommy is very protective of his identity and I suppose he got some right for a film not to butcher that for him. In its myopia the film neglects everything else. It closes in and in on this vacuum of meaning neglecting all the possibility for truth and humanity to be found surrounding it.
That’s why it fails. The film ends on scenes from The Room and recreations by this cast shot on set. That compilation got the best reaction in the whole film. That’s the power of that flick and it’s why this one fails. It’s just too obsessed by the image to capture the soul.
The Disaster Artist is currently screening in UK cinemas.