When it comes to adapting a book certain things are almost always lost, and how can they not be when if you included every scene from a book the film would be thirty plus hours long. But with The Disaster Artist we have quite a unique situation as the book is one person’s version of events which have been heavily questioned by others, and the film, well, that’s not particularly faithful to the book at all so on top of one possibly exaggerated tale you have someone’s own, definitely untrue take.
It’s hard to understand why the film’s director and star, James Franco, made such a decision either as the book is crazy and then some. Based on the life of actor Greg Sestero it tells of how he met the actor / director / all round mad man Tommy Wiseau, of their strained friendship and how they went on to make The Room together, a film which is widely considered to be one of the worst of all time and truly has to be seen to be believed.
The book is told in two different time lines with the alternating chapters leaping between Greg and Tommy’s first meeting and initial friendship, and the two of them making the film together, and it’s a difficult book to like if I’m to be honest. At first it’s often very funny as Tommy Wiseau is a truly unique human being and quite possibly one of the worst actors ever to have appeared on the silver screen, but it becomes increasingly frustrating as Greg whines and whines about how strange and fucked up Tommy is, all the while refusing to walk away from the man.
It’s initially understandable as to why he doesn’t, as Tommy lets Greg stay at his LA apartment for a ridiculously cheap rate while he’s trying to make it as an actor, and so Greg is more than happy to take advantage of Tommy’s kindness despite mocking him and making suggestions that he’s a deeply fucked up person. It’s perhaps possible to have some sympathy for Greg at this point as he’s young and desperate for fame and has never met anyone like Tommy before, but that soon evaporates as during the chapters which tell of the making of The Room Greg is even meaner and crueller about Tommy.
I have no doubt that Tommy Wiseau was a terrible film director, and an extremely difficult man to be around, the rest of the cast and crew of The Room have tales which suggest that, as do the interviews with the man himself (with one with The AV Club where he ends up calling the interviewer a prick and walking out being particularly telling), but Greg comes across as a such a spoilt brat that it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for him at all. The way he tells it, it feels like he’s trapped against his will and is forced in to making the film with Tommy, not someone who was being paid an obscene amount of money to do so.
If Greg had complained just slightly less, of not made himself out to be such a victim, it might have been a more interesting and involving read, but it’s just not the case at all, and that stops the funny moments from being quite as memorable as terrible things happening to Greg seemed pretty reasonable given what a moany old shit he is. That said it is still a fascinating read, it just should be much much shorter, if you edited out half of the insults made to Tommy it’d be far more enjoyable a book.
I watched the film the day I finished reading the book and it’s also quite a bizarre, unusual thing, if only because it heavily fictionalises the events of the book. So as mentioned in the opening paragraph you have a film based on one person’s version of events which is definitely false, and includes many a scene which just didn’t happen, and that’s quite simply a inexplicable choice from director / star James Franco with it sometimes feeling like all an excuse for Franco to remake parts of The Room.
Ignoring the fact that Franco is miscast as Tommy, failing not only to get his voice right but also looking completely wrong for the role (and he’s way too similar age wise to Greg as well when their age disparity is a big part of the book), the fictionalised elements make no sense at all considering just how plain odd the real story is. Right from the beginning it stretches the truth too, like when they read the text of a play together in a restaurant with Greg supposedly loving the experience, when he hated it in real life.
Other elements which just did not happen include when they visited the site of James Dean’s tragic road crash they supposedly pinky swear that they’ll always support each other, which is referred to at two other points in the movie, along with Tommy suggesting he and Greg move to LA at the same time to start their acting careers and living together in the same apartment, and then Greg being the one who suggests they make their own movie (with his agent supposedly not returning his phone calls) and desperately wanting the role, rather than being the film’s line producer and then having to be persuaded to take it on when Tommy fires a different actor.
I could have gone on and on mentioning the differences there as there’s a great deal of them. Admittedly some of the changes don’t really matter (Greg’s girlfriend Amber having a larger role in the film than she did in the book, for instance) and you can understand others as it allows them to slimline the narrative and get to the good bits quicker, but to make so much stuff up, well I really can’t get over why such a peculiar choice was made. At least it becomes more faithful when it comes to the actual shooting of the film but even then it skimps over certain aspects, like Tommy’s horrendous acting and extremely weird relationship with money, and the way members of the crew quit or were fired by Tommy, meaning that by the end very few of those who started out at the beginning were still involved.
It’s a far more flattering version of Tommy too, when Greg and Tommy are living together it all seems fine, little of Tommy’s supposed horrendous behaviour is included (and Jesus, some of it in the book is beyond worrying), and Franco’s portrayal of him as someone with extreme darkness and a fucked up past that haunts him is absent completely. Meanwhile Dave Franco as Greg isn’t much better, his Greg is all but a simpleton, who seems unable to stop grinning like a loon until the very end of the movie, which yes, you guessed it, didn’t happen the way Franco claims.
Perhaps worst of all is the final twenty minutes is all but completely fictional, the premier of the film especially where according to the book everyone involved knew the film would be terrible and so weren’t shocked at all, and it doesn’t feature the numerous walk outs and other aspects. It ends with footage comparing the real version of The Room to the film’s and this is one of the more amusing moments, but even then it goes on for too long, as does a toe curling bit of meta-ness post credits.
So despite the frustrations of the book and the way Greg talks about Tommy in it, if you want an idea as to what happened behind the scenes of The Room then the book is the only way you’ll ever know what took place (Well, that and interviews online at least). The film really isn’t worth watching unless you’re interested in what a vanity piece about a vanity piece looks like, though it’s surprisingly far less involving than I’ve made that sound.
The Book – ★★★
The Film – ★1/2