Warning: This post contains minor spoilers for The Disaster Artist.
You don't have to have seen The Room to enjoy The Disaster Artist, but it helps. The upcoming film, which bills itself as a re-telling of the making of the best worst movie ever made, recreates many of the cult film's scenes, offering some insight into how they came to be.
The teaser for The Disaster Artist featured a gag-reel of takes of the film's most memorable line. Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) comes up on the roof after his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle) accuses him of beating her, and spews out a series of words with no kind of tonality or emphasis: "I did not hit her, it's not true, it's bullshit, I did not hit her, I did not, oh hi Mark."
The scene in the original movie is absurd — it's almost impossible to imagine how this could even be called acting. So, to see the machinations behind it — the never-ending takes, the adding of the water bottle, Wiseau's commitment to "real human behaviour" — gives depth to what, on the surface, appears purely trash.
But perhaps the most timely insight of the movie comes when filming the sex scene. If you've never seen The Room, a caution: the sex scene is long. Really long. And weird —really weird. Arriving fairly early on in the movie, it involves a semi-erotic pillow fight between Johnny, Lisa, and Denny (Phillip Haldiman), a teenage boy who hangs around but whose relationship to the couple is never really explained. Denny eventually leaves, and the action — which includes a single rose and many, many shots of Tommy Wiseau's bare ass — begins. You can watch the entire thing here, starting at the 0:37 mark.
Once again, in the context of The Room, the scene is insane— a joke. But The Disaster Artist offers a different perspective. James Franco's interpretation of Tommy Wiseau, weird on the best of days, becomes volatile as the movie's production drags on. He insists on directing the scene, which he also stars in, naked, traipsing around set with a sock on his penis, and nothing else. He refuses to declare a closed set, forcing his co-star (played by Ari Graynor) to appear in nothing but a sheet in front of dozens of people. As they call action, Wiseau notices a freckle on Danielle's shoulder, which he declares heinous and calls for her to head to makeup, STAT. He embarrasses her repeatedly over the course of the scene, to the point where several crew-members threaten to walk off set in protest.
It's difficult to know how accurate the portrayal is — The Disaster Artist isn't a documentary, and doesn't claim to be. But asked about the process of filming the sex scenes a Reddit AMA in 2012, Juliette Danielle shared her experience. "Of course they were uncomfortable...but those were scenes pretty standard compared to how they are usually done on a set," she said. "The only difference is that Tommy used ALL the footage...rather than whittling it down to a short sequence like most do."
"I was so mortified," she added. "Literally every last bit of footage was used I think!"
Given the introspection currently taking place in Hollywood around issues of sexual harassment and assault, the scene hits home. It proves that the debasing and abusive treatment that women in the business are often subjected to while doing their job finds its way into even our favourite cult classics, turning a funny moment into a dark and all too real commentary. Tommy Wiseau may be the mysterious face of The Room, but his story isn't the only one worth telling.
The Disaster Artist hits cinemas December 1.