In 2017, there was a mini series and a film that both chronicled the tumultuous behind the scenes production of a famous film and the interesting relationship between two of the actors in said film. On FX, there was Feud: Bette and Joan, about both the behind the scenes filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In the movies, James Franco made The Disaster Artist, a movie about the behind the scenes filming of The Room (not the Brie Larson one the Tommy Wiseau one) and the friendship between Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero. But which one is better? I’m going to split it up in three categories, Historical Accuracy, Writing, and Cast and decide, on those three factors, which one is the better flick.
When it comes to The Disaster Artist, it’s rate at historical accuracy is 50/50, it gets some things right about what happened in real life yet also gets an equal amount of things wrong (judging from the book of the same name).
It is true that Greg met Tommy at an acting class and was inspired to be his friend when he saw him doing an over the top version of Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire.
It is true that Greg and Tommy moved in together and he had a suspiciously big apartment and it is also true that Greg’s Mom and his friends weren’t happy about it.
Many of the stuff that happened in the scenes where they were showing the making of The Room did indeed happen (although if you thought what he did to Juliette when they were filming the sex scene was bad in the movie, it was even worse in the book as he made her CRY. That and Seth Rogen and his crew weren’t the only crew members that quit like the movie portrayed).
But there were also a lot of things The Disaster Artist changed. While Tommy’s personality and history (what we know of it) were mostly on point, they did make Greg a bit different from how he was in real life, if the book is any indication.
In the movie, Greg is a complete failure as an actor whose biggest success is getting an agent but he has never booked anything big. He is constantly asked “wouldn’t you like to see yourself on the big screen?” and thinks having a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle would be good for his career despite not even knowing how big the role is.
In real life, he had guest starring roles on Nash Bridges and Days of Our Lives BEFORE he did The Room. He also had one line in Edtv, a mainstream comedy from Universal Pictures starring Matthew McConaughey.
To be fair, though, that wasn’t mentioned in the book probably because Edtv is the most forgettable movie ever made with such a memorable cast and crew (it was directed by Ron Howard and starred Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Martin Landau, Ellen Degeneres, Rob Reiner, and…you probably forgot it existed, didn’t you? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if even Greg forgot he was in it).
But what he was in, that wasn’t mentioned in the movie but was mentioned in the book, was Retro Puppet Master, where he was the lead. Then again, that was filmed in Romania and The Disaster Artist probably didn’t have the budget to film in Romania so I can’t exactly fault them for skipping that.
Honestly, what’s more interesting is that they basically changed Sestero’s attitude toward Tommy. In the movie, Sestero is in complete awe of Tommy, thinks he’s amazing, and only really sees his flaws and questions their friendship once they start working on The Room. He’s even really happy when Tommy gives him the part of Mark in The Room (he’s also the first person cast in the movie). In the book, Sestero was optimistic and did try to turn the other cheek at first when it came to Wiseau’s less desirable qualities, but he wasn’t the complete fanboy of Wiseau he was portrayed as in the film. He was aware that he was weird and odd and even questioned their friendship way before they made The Room. Hell, in real life, he didn’t say yes to The Room, he wasn’t even the first person cast and only took the role when the original actor quit.
And Greg’s history and story weren’t the only things Franco played around with. The interaction with Cranston I mentioned earlier? Never happened. In the movie, Wiseau decides to make The Room because an agent tells him he’ll never be a successful actor. In the book, Wiseau decides to make The Room because he is jealous of Sestero’s “success” as an actor and thinks that he took him to The Talented Mr. Ripley to mock him. And there are more examples I can give.
Feud: Bette and Joan isn’t 100% historically accurate either (in fact Olivia de Havilland sued FX for not getting her permission to portray her and she felt her portrayal was a defamation of character) but, for the most part, it does tell the story of Bette and Joan’s rivalry pretty accurately. Plus, unlike The Disaster Artist, it actually mentions other movies, TV shows, and projects Bette and Joan made around that time while Franco is honestly just interested in The Room (not that I can blame him, again, who cares about EdTV?). Feud: Bette and Joan though? It mentions Trog. Trog! And Bette Davis’s Baby Jane song but most importantly it actually mentions TROG!
For having the gall to mention Trog while The Disaster Artist (if understandably) ignored Retro Puppet Master, point goes to Feud: Bette and Joan.
To be fair, this isn’t the most fair comparison because Feud: Bette and Joan is a mini series while The Disaster Artist is a movie, which means that Feud: Bette and Joan basically has more time to develop its story than The Disaster Artist does. That’s probably why it’s more historically accurate and was able to include more things that happened before, during, and after the making of Baby Jane than The Disaster Artist did. If Feud: Bette and Joan was a movie, for all we know, they wouldn’t have had the time to include a scene about Trog.
But while I realize The Disaster Artist couldn’t include EVERYTHING, I’m not really sure why they had to change some facts the way they did. Why change Tommy deciding to make The Room after seeing The Talented Mr. Ripley to him being turned down by an agent for instance? That just sounds kinda cliche if you ask me and him thinking The Talented Mr. Ripley is mocking him is more interesting.
But, once you get past that, the writing of the two has its own strengths and weaknesses but I think Feud: Bette and Joan has more depth and more ambition. The Disaster Artist wants to be an homage to The Room that’s funny and has relatable characters and it succeeds at that. Feud: Bette and Joan, however, wants to be a bit deeper and be an exploration of Hollywood’s treatment of women by using the real life rivalry of Crawford and Davis and how Hollywood’s indifference to older woman caused them to become as bitter as they are. In addition, while some of the characters are relatable in The Disaster Artist, Crawford and Davis, as they are portrayed, are more interesting because, while they are portrayed as victims of the Hollywood system, they are also shown to not exactly be angels themselves.
Because it has more depth and it’s more ambitious, I’m going to say Feud: Bette and Joan has the better script.
Both movies have good casts but I feel like Feud: Bette and Joan does take advantage of its cast better. Tommy Wiseau is great as Tommy Wiseau while Dave Franco is good but not that memorable. On the other hand, both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are great as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Alfred Molina, Jackie Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Judy Davis, Dominic Burgess, etc. all get their time to shine in roles, no matter how big or small their parts are.
While there are stand outs in The Disaster Artist other than Franco, many of the actors just feel like they are there because James Franco wanted to make sure his friends had roles in the movie. That’s probably why they had that whole “Greg gets a chance to be on Malcolm in the Middle” thing so they could get Bryan Cranston in the movie. Same with Judd Apatow as The Agent. Weird thing is, though, Jonah Hill is probably James Franco’s only friend who ISN’T in the movie. I say that’s weird because he was in a movie with Greg Sestero, as Greg Sestero was in Accepted (look at this clip at 0:04):
Seems like kind’ve a wasted opportunity if you ask me. Speaking of Sestero, I find it kinda weird his cameo didn’t make the final cut considering, if it wasn’t for him, this movie kinda wouldn’t even exist in the first place. Then again, I guess it’s not too surprising seeing as Franco finds Tommy Wiseau way more interesting. Of course, even Greg Sestero thinks Tommy Wiseau is more interesting than Greg Sestero so I guess I can understand why things happened the way they did.
Final Verdict: Both are good but Feud: Bette and Joan is the clear winner. Even once you get past the fact that its more historically accurate, it’s just got a more interesting script with deeper characters and more interesting themes. While The Disaster Artist is relatable in wanting to achieve your dreams yet wondering if you’re even good enough, it mostly gets by on being an homage to The Room, being funny, and having a great central performance. That being said, it’s still a pretty good movie, just not my favorite of the two.