The Disaster Artist: The Woes of Adaptation

A lot of my reading during this prolonged, indefinite period of quarantining happen to be works that have been adapted to other mediums. Adaptations are nothing new, so I was bound to consume media that first saw success in a different format. From reading the A Song of Ice and Fire books out of my love of Game of Thrones and disappointment of the later seasons, or reading the grisly Helter Skelter out of the intrigue Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood hinted at, my reading choices have been mainly laid on the foundation for film and television.

The Disaster Artist is no exception.

When released in theaters in the winter of 2017, the film quickly became my favorite among an incredibly strong roster of pictures released that year. The Room had become something of Hollywood legend, and to witness the making of the “Citizen Kane of bad movies” was an experience I couldn’t say no to. The film was my fourth favorite film that year, as I praised its subject matter, James Franco’s acting/directing abilities, and an inspirational message that could have easily fallen on its face if handled badly. However, like The Room, it was a rousing success, though one that was intended, unlike The Room.

Nearly three years later, I finally sat down and began to read the book that the film was based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Like its cinematic counterpart, it chronicles the tumultuous production of The Room as well as the friendship between star/author Sestero (Mark in The Room) and writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau. As far as premises go, the film and book seem to go hand in hand, and rightfully so, the story told through both mediums does have to do with the making of a film and a friendship during the film’s production.

Image provided by AbeBooks

I completely understand when film adaptations modify or change things around from the source material. What works and soars in a film might hinder and halt a book’s momentum, and vice versa. Changes are always needed to be made especially when strictly adapting a book to a film with 100% faithfulness results in something more akin to a slow, meandering miniseries. If the soul of the original work is there, the adapted work has effectively done its job in transposing a story to a new medium. This is very much a tightrope act that we have seen work beautifully in the past with its fair share of shameless duds.

This is where I find myself conflicted about The Disaster Artist. I remember loving the film when it first came out, and though I still very much like it now, I can now say Franco and co. did not do the book justice. I hate the adage of “the book was better” schtick as much as the next person but hear me out.

My main gripe with the film adaptation isn’t so much of what it omits and adds, it’s how it omits and adds to its source material. If you only saw the film, you would think the crux of the story is the phenomenon that is The Room, and the beginnings of its unlikely legacy. The book touches on that, yes, but finds much more value on Sestero’s and Wiseau’s unlikely friendship and how they unexpectedly push each other to be better. Greg’s story is one of finding success in Hollywood, a haven for the has-been’s and could’ve-been’s and never-was’ with the occasional few who make it. Tommy’s tale is one of hardship, an underdog who (allegedly) knew great hardship and witnessed the ugly side of humanity, miraculously making something of himself as he seeks success and fame in America.

The film treats Greg’s career aspirations/progress as a way to establish character beats: his first time in an agency shows his lack of experience and wide eyed ambition, whereas his later excelling in the theater signifies his growth in talent well after The Room wrapped. In the scene where he reluctantly shaves his beard even if keeping it meant a role in Malcolm in the Middle, these actions are in service to The Room and Greg’s involvement. The book touches on the same situations, though the whole Malcolm thing is a fictional add on, but having it told through Greg’s perspective shows how his career and his relationships were impacted by his decision to help Tommy on his passion project. The book communicates how consequential and significant his time during The Room’s production was to his career and life, whereas the film opts to show it as this lightning in a bottle moment in history that would change cinema. It did just that, to a certain extent, but Greg’s detailing of events is far more personal and intimate, bringing new life and personality to the filmmaking process.

Why “The Room” Is a Better Movie Than James Franco's “The Disaster ...
Credit to the film: the reenactment of scenes from The Room has incredible attention to detail *image provided by The New Yorker*

I wouldn’t call Franco’s film a bad adaptation. It delivers on the same initial premise as its source material: a peek behind the curtain on how The Room was made. It’s hilarious, well-acted, and oddly inspirational. Tommy and Greg are depicted as underdogs trying to make it into an industry where there’s more self-loathing to go around than actual success. It is incredibly effective at that front.

The film is instead a misguided adaptation, failing to recognize Sestero’s and Bissell’s chief sentiment in the book. The making of The Room is the initial selling point, but Greg’s and Tommy’s pursuit for Hollywood glory, individually and as a collective, is what makes The Disaster Artist special. Perhaps this was never meant to made into a film, especially with its star power and A24’s prominence as a production company. To have James Franco, a Hollywood staple who has long enjoyed considerable success over his career, tell the story of two friends pursuing success in Hollywood is a damaging decision in hindsight. Though readers might feel burned after watching the film adaptation, it is no surprise that Franco is more attracted to the production side of things and opting to leave the friendship angle as a backdrop rather than the whole point of the story.

Again, The Disaster Artist, both book and film, is an incredibly fascinating and unlikely success story of how a terribly beloved film came to be. As two separate entities, however, one is sorely lacking the heart and endearing quality that made the other a must read. The woes of this adaptation are hardly about what was added and what was shelved to save time, but how one storyteller prioritized one aspect of the story that was never meant to take center stage. In a way, a misguided adaptation can hurt more than a bad adaptation. The film constantly flirts with the greatness found in the book that it is almost infuriating that The Disaster Artist’s heart and core never truly got its due.

You can almost say that it was tearing me apart (Lisa!).

The Top 10 Films of 2017

Over the past year, I have had the absolute pleasure of watching truly great films. Though there have been a variety of sadly disappointing movies, I feel that 2017 has been the year where new, original motion pictures have been championed and celebrated. Making this list has proved to be a gut-wrenching affair. The rankings aren’t necessarily a statement on one film’s superiority to another. I believe these films to be amazing in their own, respective right. However, not making this list would be a disservice to my love for the following films.

Honorable Mentions: Split, Thor: Ragnarok, John Wick: Chapter 2, Logan Lucky, IT, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman, and Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

*Tony Stark reveals Iron Spider Armor*

“Why don’t you try that on, and we’ll introduce the world to the newest official member of the Avengers: Spider-Man.

Spider-Man’s debut to the motherland of the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War was a glorious highlight in that film. To see Marvel’s most popular hero interact with Cap, Iron Man, and almost the rest of that film’s cast was just a taste, a tease of what Tom Holland can do as Spider-Man’s third cinematic incarnation. Homecoming was exactly that: a welcoming celebration of the title character, giving us a fresh, yet faithfully familiar portrayal of the web-slinger. While this is no means an origin story of Spider-Man, Homecoming truly delights and excels as a coming-of-age tale of Peter Parker turning into Spider-Man: the hero. Bombarded by adversity and clear and present dangers, witnessing Peter Parker scream “Come on, Spider-Man!” on the top of his lungs brings levity and much-needed vulnerability to comic book’s greatest anomaly: a frightened, at times delusional boy behind a mask claiming to the outside world to be a man.

  1. Get Out

Chris Washington: All I know is sometimes, when there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?

[pause, Georgina laughs creepily with tears in her eyes]

Georgina: Oh no, no. No. No no no no no no. Aren’t you something? That’s not my experience. Not at all. The Armitages are so good to us. They treat us like family.

Certainly one of the biggest surprises of 2017, Jordan Peele’s directoral debut is a hauntingly brilliant, hilarious and terrifying commentary of racial and class prejudice. There is such a fine line to walk on if one wishes to make a horror film. You want to be flashy, yet subtle; terrifying, but palpable. Not only does Jordan Peele pass with flying colors on this front, but to add the social commentary in the mix seemed to inevitably result in a pretentious, preachy film. Miraculously, Get Out manages to stray away from cinematic convention, resulting into a timely, smart and genuinely unpredictable film. As far as debuts go, Peele is a force to be reckoned with. Delivering Hitchcockian suspense in his first feature from beginning to end, Get Out works superbly well on all fronts of the cinematic experience.

  1. Lady Bird

Marion McPherson: I want you to be the best version of yourself.
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: What if this is the best version?

Speaking of debuts, long time writer and actress Greta Gerwig delivers her first feature on the director’s chair in the form of Lady Bird, chronicling the life of high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson as she tries to answer that all important yet impossible question: Who am I? What’s with the name, you ask? “Lady Bird” is her name, given to her, by her. Gerwig delivers a snappy, often hilarious screenplay, anchored with a direction that is lovingly intimate, making the viewer truly feel they are with these characters as they interact. As rich the direction might be, however, a film also hinders on what is presented on the screen, a la the actors, this film’s greatest strength. Laurie Metcalf beautifully plays the mother of the title character, displaying a generational disconnect between her and daughter. She loves her to death, but feels her advice has and always will fall on the seemingly deaf ears of Lady Bird. In addition to Metcalf, Saoirse Ronan delivers yet another career defining performance with a charismatic relatability and wisdom once thought to be lightyears of her youth. Along with last year’s amazing The Edge of Seventeen, the once dead young adult drama is on a full-on revival with this recklessly adolescent masterwork.

  1. Dunkirk

The enemy has driven the British and French armies to the sea. Trapped at Dunkirk, they await their fate. Hoping for deliverance. For a miracle.

When I think of 2014’s Interstellar, I think of a director’s masterwork with somewhat paradoxical execution. I felt the last act of the film to have much too dialogue for a film that prides itself in its visual sophistication, especially in regards to its themes of love and parenthood. Christopher Nolan’s latest war epic Dunkirk, however, completely rights the wrong of his last odyssey. Gone are the expositional science lessons. Standing at an uncharacteristically lean 106 minutes, Nolan delivers his most intense, cutthroat, and bombastic picture to date. The war genre has been gradually, and jadedly, glamorized, as if war is to be encouraged, like the loss of life is something to be fond of. Dunkirk strips away every convention that has plagued this cliché ridden genre, making a new, original beast of a war film. Character development is at a deliberate minimum, focusing on the horrors and sheer intensity of the event itself. Dunkirk shows Nolan at his most potent, focused and bombastic, a true lover of the cinematic art and experience.

  1. The Shape of WaterRelated image

When he looks at me, he does not know – how – I am incomplete. He sees me… as I am.

It’s weird. It’s different. It’s beautifully tailored by the mad mind of Guillermo del Toro. Easily his best and most wondrous feature since 2007’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water pits del Toro delivering a gorgeously original love story between a sea creature and a mute janitor. The premise alone sounds offputting and inadvertently comedic, but del Toro’s confident and fearless direction matched with pitch perfect performances from Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones as simply “Amphibian Man” makes this odd love story into a whimsical and joyous anomaly of a film.

  1. The Big Sick

Emily: I didn’t heckle you, just woo-hoo’d you. It’s supportive.

Kumail: Okay, that’s a common misconception. Yelling anything at a comedian is considered heckling. Heckling doesn’t have to be negative.

Emily: So, if I… if I yelled out like… “You’re amazing in bed!”, that’d be a heckle?

Kumail: Yeah. It would be an accurate heckle.

By far the most straightforward film on this list, The Big Sick sees the beginnings of Kumail Nanjiani’s and Emily Gordon’s relationship and the all-too true tumultuous happenings around it. Not only does love interest Emily fall into a coma, but the internal conflicts practically blossom almost in spite of this. Kumail sees himself in the cross roads of his life, reminded of his cultural upbringing, being a first generation American from Pakistan, and his life of a stand-up comic despite his conservative parents’ wishes. They don’t know about his relationship with Emily, having the guise of actually wanting an arranged marriage. This well-intended deception is eventually revealed, leaving for some truly heart wrenching moments that perfectly encapsulates one’s wish to please their parents but, at the same time, trying to live their own, satisfactory life. The drama is ever present, but the comedy is where The Big Sick truly shines, giving Kumail Nanjiani a star making performance with pure and perfect comedic timing, layered with the aforementioned cultural dilemma. The straightforward nature of this film is almost deceptive to the naked eye: this is a smart, hilarious and honest film about love and the insanity it can bestow.

  1. The Disaster Artist

Greg Sestero: You’re really gonna make this thing?

Tommy Wiseau: No, Greg. We are going to do it. Together.

The irony. The Room, the cult phenomenon often touted as the ”Citizen Kane of bad movies” is a true paradox of cinema. The film is so bad, so incomprehensible and odd, that the story of how The Room was conceived and made turns out to be one of the most gratifying experiences in the theatre. The Disaster Artist is not a 100 minute-long bashing of its source material; it shows the power of friendship, with two unlikely friends pushing each other to their very best, because anything less than the best won’t cut it in their world. James Franco annihilates the role of Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, star and producer of The Room. This isn’t an imitation of Wiseau, so much as it is a portrait of the man, and all the oddities that come with it. The Disaster Artist is a peak behind the curtain, a character study of a man too odd and eccentric for those around him. He accuses others of not understanding his vision, misguided at it is. The film is ultimately a surprisingly heartfelt love letter to friendship, and one’s will to present his uncompromised vision and the greatest pleasure of all: to call it his.

  1. Baby Driver

Mozart in a Go-Kart

Original films are slowly becoming an endangered species, though 2017 has seen a resurgence in original material, not unlike 2014. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the epitome of original filmmaking and the excitement that new stories can bring. Nearly every aspect of the film is fresh and new: Wright’s snappy dialogue matched with his break-neck paced direction, the way the characters interact with each other, and the soundtrack that quite literally acts as the DNA of the film entire. Music often acts as the backbone, the pulse of the film, acting as an emotional commentator to what is happening on screen. Baby Driver’s soundtrack does more than amp up the suspense or turn the action into a glorified music video; it is the driving force (shameless pun not intended) of the film by acting as a second screenplay of the film. Edgar Wright has hardly been better and more razor sharp, and with an already legendary soundtrack and all-star cast (Kevin Spacey not withstanding), Baby Driver is an insatiably sweet piece of celluloid.

2. Logan

Image result for logan

Laura: You are dying. You want to die.

Logan: How do you know?

Laura: Charles told me.

Logan: What else did he tell you?

Laura: To not let you.

Last year’s Deadpool was a much needed deconstruction of the superhero genre, relentlessly poking fun at the plot holes that have become commonplace in the genre. It was a satire, a lampooning of the genre that has become too long at the teeth. Logan also deconstructs the prototypical superhero film, but decides to reside within convention to do so. Gone are Wolverine and Professor X, as Logan and Charles live tragic lives almost in spite of their former glory. The very things that made them special, what made Charles the poster boy of mutant/human equality, is the exact thing that causes harm to the people he wishes to befriend. Their gifts, mutations, or abilities haven proven to be the catalyst to the predicaments seen in this film. Logan is a brutal, violent and honest portrayal of a beloved character who actually reaches the final act of his life, something that seldom happens in this generation of remakes and reboots. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart deliver award worthy performances of these characters who they know like the back of their hands. Steven Spielberg spoke of the superhero genre, saying that it will go the way of the western. The Western had Unforgiven, a last hoorah for the heroes and villains who encapsulated that era of film, due to meet a brutal and unceremonious end. In Logan, these heroes, once titans among common folk, meet a quiet demise, with the world having already forgotten them.

  1. Blade Runner 2049

Luv: You can’t hold the tide with a broom.

There’s a phrase many use when discussing current films: “They don’t make them like they used to”. It is a presumptuous dismissal of an entire filmography simply based on its youth. Films are made all the time, and good films are made some of the time. Blade Runner 2049 is a straight up masterpiece. Every single facet of filmmaking is done to effortless and sheer perfection. The performances are convincing and captivating. Hans Zimmer’s score perfectly compliments Vangelis’ hypnotic work in the 1982 original. The sound design is the thing that dreams are made of. From the opening logos to the closing credits, 2049’s sound immerses you into 2049 Los Angeles and the film’s task at hand. The cinematography is pure, cinematic ecstasy. Roger Deakins’ command of color and silhouettes has never been better, which is quite the statement considering the man’s legendary body of work. Every single shot is done with the grace and focus only befitting of Deakins’ loftily high standards. If this doesn’t win him that elusive Oscar, literally nothing will: this is some of the best cinematography of all time. However, all of these attributes would go in vain if helmed by the wrong director. Hell, not even Ridley Scott himself could make a better film than the original. So it must be noted that Denis Villeneuve’s direction will surely become the thing of legend, making the sequel that dare not be made, resulting in the best sequel of the decade, and one of the best ever. The idea of a Blade Runner sequel has been in the cards for some time, but the idea of actually making it was a hypothetical many cautioned to have it stay as such. It is because of Villeneuve that 2049 didn’t end up being a trainwreck, using the amazing aforementioned individual aspects of the film and making a picture that is greater than the sum of its parts. As a sequel, it perfectly captures the iconic dreamy and rain soaked neon Los Angeles of the original, also capturing the methodically patience testing pace that has divided moviegoers. As a film, it stands on its own with the greatest of ease, constantly rewarding your patience with a beautifully realized behemoth of a film, delivering the quintessential cinematic experience, reminding us why movies are made and why we watch them: to see the impossible come true.