I can't help but feel that James Franco has missed a trick with this retelling of the making of The Room. Tommy Wiseau is an extremely eccentric character who can appear alien at first but there is a very relatable personality behind it all, almost childlike in its naivete. This is a film that could have told a human story that would appeal to a large audience, but instead we get a love letter to The Room and the glory of Wiseau is once again restricted to a limited audience appeal.
I must admit, my viewing of the film has been tainted by the fact that I have read the book on which it is based. As is so often the case, the pared down film script simply does not have the emotional weight or room for growth to tell the story that is required. For a start, it suffers from a lack of focus. Is this film about Tommy Wiseau or Greg Sestero? The book is Sestero's story but is defined by his life with Wiseau (in itself quite a tragic premise). It uses a pretty simple cross-cutting structure to flit between the story of their friendship and the making of The Room. But here, we have only the linear structure, which means we have to rush through the foundation stuff where the emotional payloads are being set up and have to get to what people really want to see – Wiseau in action. The relationship between Sestero and Wiseau should be the entire story of the film. The fact that they are working together on a project is simply a catalyst for Wiseau's ego to flare up and cause rifts between them. Yes, we can revel in the hilarity of Wiseau's bizarre behaviour, but let the emotional story come through that.
I finished the book with a renewed sense of affection for Wiseau; he is a scarred, emotionally fragile man who is in great denial about the vast majority of his own life. Sestero is one of his closest friends, and by the end of the story you understand why Greg put up with so much over those years. Not just because he felt beholden to Tommy for all the financial and practical help, but also because of the shared emotional support they had built up, and because he knew Tommy had something he never would; passion. An unkillable passion.
The film, unfortunately, doesn't quite get deep enough to grasp these concepts and the Sestero character only ever comes across as a sap who keeps putting up with this guy's bullshit. There is no moral quandary over when to walk away from a friend. Or when money is not enough to make up for a bad job. Or why you should feel guilty about pretending to support a friend just because of your own personal gain. There is no exploration of being stuck in a job (or a relationship) that you hate but there is something holding you there. How do you sit down with a friend and tell them that the one thing they really want in life is never going to happen because they're just fucking talentless? These are the things we should see the Greg Sestero character dealing with, but instead he just puts on a pained expression with his off-colour eyebrows.
James Franco does a solid job of impersonating Wiseau but it never really feels like the character acting master class that it really needs to be. Dave Franco is pretty mundane and boring but, to be fair, that is a pretty good rendition of Greg Sestero. The rest of the cast barely get a look in as all other characters are reduced to what may as well be extended cameos as they are just there to give James Franco something to bounce off of and the tension on set that should have created high drama just never seems to materialise.
The film swims mostly in the shallows and for fans of The Room, this is an adequate bedfellow that will raise a few laughs. But don't expect to learn anything new about the man behind The Room.
A missed opportunity, but entertaining enough; 6/10