James Franco is getting attention and awards for his performance as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, a film he directed about my favorite bad movie, The Room. In his acceptance speech for his Golden Globe win for this role, as well as in his interview on the WTF podcast, he celebrates Tommy and what he sees as the lasting legacy of The Room, in that it has been entertaining thousands of people for 14 years now. He feels Tommy has made the mark he set out to make when he began pursuing work in the entertainment industry.
I’m not buying this line of PR.
The Room is a terrible melodrama. Wiseau has been marketing it as a black comedy ever since it attracted an audience during his self-funded theatrical distribution of the film in Los Angeles. To his credit, Wiseau saw an opportunity for his baby and worked hard to pursue it. Since he is basically the sole owner of the film, I imagine he’s been doing quite well thanks to its cult following. So yes, in one cynical interpretation of the American Dream (not sure if there are any noncynical versions), Tommy has been a successful figure in the entertainment industry.
But, this movie. It is so bad. It is idiosyncratic in its terribleness, which is what has led to its cult success. If someone with an eye for irony and any sort of skill as a filmmaker had set out to make a movie like this they would have failed. Only Tommy could have done it, and done it so badly. Everything about the making of the movie displays a complete ignorance about how movies are made. This is not something Franco shied away from in his interview on WTF, at one point referring to it (correctly) as looking like dog shit. It’s clear that nothing in it was intended as the sort of comedy Wiseau has pivoted towards in order to get a return on his $6 million (!) investment. He’s probably made some money, and yes, people are being entertained by his work. In every other way the movie is a failure.
This is where my disconnect between Franco’s attempt at a positive message and his opinion about The Room lies. The Disaster Artist‘s ultimate message seems to be that if you pursue your dreams something good will happen to you. That was essentially the message of Franco’s acceptance speech as well. I think that’s a complete whitewashing of the reality of how bad The Room is, and the cancer of “fame and fortune as an end justify any means” that infects a lot of American culture. I found all of this especially strange when Tommy himself was standing on stage next to Franco during his speech. (And no, I have no problem with Franco pushing Tommy aside when he went for the mic. I can’t imagine Franco would have had a chance to speak had Tommy gotten started.) It felt like “See! I’m on stage in front of all of Hollywood! I made it!” This completely ignores the fact that everyone laughing at a screening of The Room is laughing directly at, not in any way with, the thing that Tommy worked so hard to make.
I am not in any way saying people shouldn’t laugh at this movie. I own the DVD, I’ve gone to a midnight screening of it, I’m watching it for the seventh or eighth time this weekend with my friends Brian and Kristen because she’s never seen it and watching it with a newbie is one of my favorite things in the world. I do, however, want to put the brakes on the idea that we get to somehow celebrate Tommy Wiseau while also laughing at him and his movie. It’s hypocrisy.
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.