James Franco‘s and Seth Rogen‘s newest sure-to-be hit, The Disaster Artist comes out next month and there’s a lot of hype surrounding it. Then again, most of us don’t even know what the heck it even is actually about? The Disaster Artist is actually based on a book… that’s based on the making of a movie… that’s based on actual nonsense. The story behind the film traces back to the making of the best bad movie of all time: The Room. The film has become a cult hit with screenings around the country and semi-regular play at 3 AM on Adult Swim.
The film was the most improbable cult classic ever. It’s just bad. Like really bad. But it’s somehow insanely rewatchable and its allure has even reached James Franco & Co. While all the taglines for The Disaster Artist exclaim it’s based on a true story how many people actually know that story? To truly understand the newest Franco-Rogen hit you have to first understand The Room, and to do that you need Tommy Wiseau.
Who the heck is Tommy Wiseau?
Uh, well, the answer to this one is complicated because no one really knows. The actor-filmmaker has been notoriously secretive about his early life, his accent, and even how old he is. One day he arrived in Hollywood from… Poland? We think? And was determined to make an emotional drama for the ages. He gives incomprehensible interviews full of insane soundbites. He’s an all-around enigma, but many have attempted to unravel the mystery of Wiseau.
The closest anyone has gotten to discovering the secrets of Wiseau is documentarian Rick Harper‘s research and subsequent documentary, Room Full of Spoons. He got in contact with a friend of Tommy’s, learned his actual surname, and traced his ancestry back to Poland. For a man who’s closest claim to being European was, “I lived in France a long time ago,” this is a pretty big find.
The only other thing he’s let slip through the cracks is how he’s made some of his money: imported Korean leather jackets. For this unconventional man, that sounds about right.
“Oh, Hi Mark!”: The Room becomes a cult classic
The fact that The Room still endures seems impossible. The “Citizen Kane of bad movies” was conceived, produced, written, directed by, and stars Wiseau. He plays a man named Johnny, distraught that his fiance Lisa (Juliette Danielle) is tearing him apart!! She’s suddenly in love with his best friend Mark — played by real-life friend and The Disaster Artist author Greg Sestero. There’s a bizarre subplot where Lisa’s mom gets breast cancer.. .and then just doesn’t bring it up again. And, of course, notorious drug dealer Chris R. (Dan Janjigian) makes a brief appearance for seemingly no reason.
The film has some of the most over-the-top acting of all time, as well as a plot with more holes than swiss cheese. The writing, acting, and filming style made for a perfect storm of awfulness and was a box office bomb. But then something crazy happened: The Room became a cult hit. So bad it was actually good, word of mouth about the wonderfully horrible film led to monthly midnight screenings, Wiseau fandom, and now a movie about the making of the cult classic.
The Disaster artist comes to life
The mockumentary making-of film is based on Sestero’s book of the same name documenting his time on set. Back in 2014, Seth Rogen’s film studio purchased the rights to the book and it’s crazy tales. Rogen’s frequent collaborator James Franco was soon on board because he’s always down for something weird. He took a page from Wiseau’s playbook playing the mysterious actor and directing the film. Oh, and he pulled in his brother, Dave Franco to play Sestero, making this thing a full-on Franco affair which is never bad.
And while the film is definitely a comedy about the notoriously bad film, that’s not Franco’s only intent. He asserts he’s not poking fun at Wiseau — he’s telling a story about friendship and chasing your dreams. Sestero and Wiseau are friends to this day despite the publication of The Disaster Artist (which Wiseau agrees with 40% of, by the way). One reviewer echoed this sentiment exactly, saying the film plays as an earnest story of “best friends seeking the Hollywood dream.”
Franco’s best film yet?
As one critic puts it, this film is “the most James Franco thing James Franco has ever done”. And that’s not a bad thing! Franco’s penchant for method acting works especially well when the subject is alive and willing to be involved. Wiseau has given Franco plenty of material to use and reviews are already indicating an all-star Franco performance.
Franco himself said that he got into the role so deeply that he even directed the film as Wiseau. In an interview he said,
When else am I ever going to direct a movie and play the movie where the lead is directing a movie and playing the lead? Never! I’m probably never going to do that again. I’ll just tell you, sometimes it works to do the Daniel Day-Lewis.
His brother corroborates that they had to prep actors in advance who stopped by for cameos, aas well as friends and family, for the in-character James. But it seems that the intense method acting has certainly worked out for him.
What does Wiseau think about The Disaster Artist?
Surprisingly the man himself loves the film. Sometimes it can be hard to understand what the hell he’s trying to say in interviews, but when talking about the film he’s been crystal clear: he 99.9% approves of the film. The .01% he doesn’t agree with? How Franco-as-Wiseau throws a football in the film.
Want more Wiseau?
After The Room tanked, Wiseau stayed out of the limelight for a while. He does have something else you can check out, though, if you’re feeling so inclined. I’m not sure why you would be, but hey, that’s your life. A few years ago, he released a seven-episode season of his version of a sitcom. The show was called The Neighbors and, while equally as bad as The Room, it was nowhere near as memorable. But for those of you who are into unwatchable sitcoms, you could always check this one out.
And for those who want to delve even deeper into Wiseau’s brain his Reddit AMA from a few years back is as close to off-the-cuff Wiseau as we’ve gotten. And oh, boy, it’s got some gems.
The Distaster Artist premieres on December 1, 2017.