Fritz: It's hard to explain the legendary bad movie The Room. It is written and directed by its star, Tommy Wiseau, a man with a thick accent and a complete inability to read lines. Or write them, for that matter, as The Room feels like it was written by someone without the most basic idea of how humans interact (e.g., there is a scene where four tuxedo-clad men throw a football back and forth while standing 3-5 feet away from each other in an alley). Even the most mundane outdoor scenes appear to be shot on a green screen, giving it an amateurishly surreal look. And its story of a man betrayed by his girlfriend and best friends feels oddly personal, too - you get a sense Wiseau was badly hurt and is exorcising his demons in the most hamfisted way possible.
After a release in one theater in 2003 (and promoted by a billboard Wiseau paid for with his own picture on it), The Room slowly developed a cult following. Now, viewers regularly attend midnight screenings around the country. The film's co-star, Greg Sestero, wrote a book called The Disaster Artist on the experience of filming it that has been turned into a movie by director and star James Franco. So what did you think about it?
David: It would have been easy to make a snide little goof out of this true story because Wiseau is admittedly an easy target. He's an egomaniac yet he has zero talent, and the film shows that in often very funny ways but also shows it in some rather dark ways too, like when he has outbursts on set. However, in his performance, James Franco is able to humanize Wiseau...to an extent. What did you think about the performances of James Franco and, as Sestero, his brother Dave Franco?
Fritz: James Franco is good, but I think he's limited somewhat by the role. Part of what makes Wiseau fascinating is he was so secretive and inscrutable (he was rich but no one could figure out how he said he was from New Orleans but that's dubious). So he's an enigma. Dave Franco does well as the straight man - he makes you understand why Greg would follow this seemingly crazy person to Los Angeles.
The film does not quite have the heart of Tim Burton's Ed Wood (about another notoriously terrible filmmaker), but it is funnier. Seth Rogen gets a lot of laughs as the put-upon script supervisor. There are also interesting questions posed about the nature of ironic enjoyment. It's no secret that once The Room was released, people loved it not because it was the cinematic masterpiece Wiseau clearly wanted it to be but because it took itself so seriously while being so amateurish and awful and over-the-top.
How do you feel about that? Do you like to watch so-bad-they're-good movies and have a laugh? Or is there something mean at the heart of ironic enjoyment? After all, even the worst movies have a lot of people who work very hard on them and even the worst artist shows more courage than the guy laughing in the audience or writing a review. Personally, I enjoy it to a degree but can understand why it makes some people a little queasy.
David: The way I see it is that the creators of these so-bad-they-are-funny movies have it coming. Sure, they may be passionate about their story, but if "filmmakers" such as Wiseau, Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space), Phil Tucker (Robot Monster) or James Nguyen (Birdemic: Shock and Terror) don't bother to learn Filmmaking 101, then I don't feel bad for them, and laugh without guilt. Now, Edward D. Wood Jr.'s life was rather sad, as he lived in poverty until his death. He was able to direct about a handful of features (as well as some shorts and porno flicks) but they were all terrible. Wood blew it because his ego wouldn't allow him to step away from his work and see it as the crap it was. Wiseau is the same way. He thinks what he is making is great art and no one can tell him otherwise. However, unlike Ed Wood, Wiseau had money and has made even more off of The Room because of its Midnight Movie status.
Who I do feel sorry for are the actors who get roped into these terrible projects. Sestero seems like a capable actor, but because of the stigma of The Room he probably won't get the chance. He'll probably just get roles in more bad movies simply for the kitsch value because of the association to The Room.
As for The Disaster Artist, it delivers on the promise of showing what it was like on the set of the now notorious The Room. You are a fly on the wall and it is fascinating.
Fritz: It's a good movie and on a final note, in an era where so many comedies now run two or more hours (ugh), Franco, the director, thankfully keeps things moving at a brisk 103-minutes.