So you’ve seen the trailers for The Disaster Artist, with James Franco in a long black wig and speaking in the weirdest accent ever, and you’re thinking, Ooh! I want me some of that! And maybe you’ve also gleaned that The Disaster Artist is based on the true story of the making of The Room — known in cult circles as the greatest bad movie ever — and that Franco is playing its eccentric actor-director, Tommy Wiseau. But if you haven’t seen The Room, can you still see and enjoy The Disaster Artist? Below, Jada Yuan and Kyle Buchanan debate this pertinent question. They’ve both screened The Disaster Artist, but only one of them was an aficionado of The Room beforehand.
Jada Yuan: I got to see The Disaster Artist when it was still a “work in progress” at its first unveiling at SXSW in March, and not only did I have no idea what I was getting into, I was kind of dreading it. I disliked the Franco-directed version of The Sound and the Fury so much that I’d sworn never to watch another if his auteur works unless I had to, and as for The Room, I was aware it was a phenomenon, but that was the extent of it. This sounds terrible, but I don’t think I even knew beforehand that The Disaster Artist was about the making of The Room.
And then this movie starts and from the first ten seconds, I’m laughing. Well, not just laughing. Guffawing. Like the kind of laughing where you have to remind yourself to breathe and you have tears streaming down your face. I didn’t even know it was possible to laugh and cry simultaneously as much as I did while watching this movie. I’ve now seen The Disaster Artist three times, and it keeps happening!
Quick summary of stuff I’ve found out since: The making-of movie is based on a book by Tommy’s best friend, Greg Sestero, who plays Mark in The Room (and who’s played by Dave Franco in The Disaster Artist). The two of them met in acting class in San Francisco and moved to L.A. together to take Hollywood by storm. Tommy was definitely in his late 40s, though claimed to be the same age as Greg, which was early 20s. He has an inimitable accent that he claims is from New Orleans but is probably Eastern European. And he has unlimited funds from some unknown income source that allowed him spend $6 million making this insane amateur movie that he also paid to keep in theaters for two weeks so it could qualify for the Academy Awards.
Maybe it helps to know that James is basing his bizarre performance on a real person, but just on its own, whatever he’s doing up there is some of the funniest shit I’ve ever seen. It’s a sincere appreciation of this wonderful weirdo and his complete dedication to a craft — acting, being a Hollywood visionary — that he doesn’t know how to do, and I could watch a gazillion hours of it without it getting old. I love the way James as Tommy sounds like he’s talking through a scuba mask, always missing some basic element of grammar: “Bring football”; “Don’t look at rock crab”; “Be my guest like Beauty and Beast.” I love the scene where he throws a football like he’s lobbing a hot turkey. I love thinking about how James Franco directed himself in a scene where he’s totally naked in a crazy wig and yelling at Seth Rogen. I love that every time I hear James Franco talk about Tommy Wiseau (on panels, at Q&As), he can’t help but talk as Tommy Wiseau. I love that James seems totally delighted every time he tells a new crowd about how Tommy wanted Johnny Depp to play him, and how they had to cut out the fact that Tommy’s favorite drink at a restaurant is piping hot water because they figured no one would believe it. I love that the movie isn’t at all mean-spirited and has become my own personal panacea for this year of Hollywood being awful. I love that this whole endeavor feels like it was built on love.
I ran into James Franco at a cocktail party for the movie two weeks ago, and he said I should see The Room because I’m someone who likes to collect experiences, and it’s a pretty great one to have. Maybe I will. But I don’t know why I would torture myself with a terrible movie rather than just watch The Disaster Artist — a great movie about a terrible movie — a fourth or fifth time. Kyle, you’ve seen The Room plenty of times. What did you think of The Disaster Artist?
Kyle Buchanan: I live in Los Angeles, and I vividly remember the billboard Wiseau mounted on Highland Avenue almost 15 years ago to advertise The Room. Like the movie itself, the billboard was bad in a way that compels you, with a moody, lazy-eye head shot of Wiseau and a title treatment that felt very “first five minutes of learning Photoshop.” (Side note: I love that between this and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, we have an awards season where billboards play such a crucial role, and I’m only sorry that we couldn’t have rushed an Angelyne biopic to theaters just to get three and make it a trend.)
In part because the billboard stayed up for fucking years, and in part because the movie itself is so wackadoo, the cult of The Room grew and grew. Wiseau kept it in theaters by four-walling midnight screenings at the Sunset 5, but I saw it for the first of many times on home video, and that’s really the way I would recommend it be watched for the first time. Get a group of friends together who have a yen for so-bad-they’re-good movies, press play, and exult in all the times your pals yelp, “What? What?”
Having done this a zillion times over the years, I think I appreciated The Disaster Artist all the more. It’s a very funny movie regardless — this is the best comic performance Franco has delivered since Spring Breakers — and the scenes and moments from The Room are re-created with loving attention to detail. I’m not usually a big fan of movies that trade in easy “remember this” punch lines, but it works in this case because The Room is so baffling that you turn it over in your head, trying to explore it from every angle, and The Disaster Artist presents another fun way of peering at it.
So should you see The Room before The Disaster Artist? This depends less on whether you want to see The Disaster Artist and more on whether you want to see The Room, because the former works whether you’ve seen the source material or not, but it also obviates whatever need you might have to check out Wiseau’s cult classic. The Room works because it’s so baffling, because it has you constantly asking, “What the hell?” and “How did this get made?” If you watch its making-of movie beforehand, you’ll know the answers to those questions (at least, as much as anything related to Tommy Wiseau is knowable).
It’s telling, I think, that so many of the people I know who skipped The Room but liked The Disaster Artist feel no strong urge to watch the Wiseau film after. In a way, you’ll feel like you’ve already seen it.
Jada: I get what you’re saying: It’s not imperative to see The Room first, but it might enhance the experience. Still, I’m starting to wonder if the correct order is The Disaster Artist first and then The Room. Like, if you’re a scholar of Franco’s movie, which I find myself quickly becoming, maybe it’ll fill in the blanks? I can’t go back in time and see The Room before I saw James’s interpretation, but you have me curious enough now that I want to get one viewing under my belt — if only so I can perfect my own Tommy impression of laughing in people’s faces when they tell me their names and saying, “Ha ha! Good one!”