The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “The Disaster Artist,” click here.
“The Disaster Artist” is so unbelievable that it has to be real, as no screenwriter could pull something this bizarre out of his or her brain.
The film tells the story of the making of another film, 2003’s “The Room,” a spectacular flop until it took its place among the so-bad-they’re-good cult classics of American cinema. “The Disaster Artist” follows “The Room’s” writer-director-producer-star Tommy Wiseau (James Franco, who also directs) and his slightly bewildered friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) as they meet, set out for Los Angeles to achieve stardom and end up being a part of the uniformly terrible “The Room.”
I haven’t seen “The Room” (though I will now), but it seems to be about a guy named Johnny (Wiseau) and his buddy Mark (Sestero) who … do stuff? And Johnny has a girlfriend, Lisa (Juliette Danielle, played in “The Disaster Artist” by Ari Graynor), who cheats on him? And then he shoots himself, and I guess that’s the end?
It’s because “The Disaster Artist” is so funny that one scene stands out as deeply, powerfully uncomfortable; it’s the filming of the sex scene with Danielle and Wiseau. Danielle was promised a closed set, meaning no one but those who are absolutely necessary for the shoot is allowed to be there. Wiseau doesn’t give her that. Then he repeatedly calls her body disgusting, basically hops on top of her without clearing it with her (a big no-no) and swaggers around the set naked save for the garment that actors often wear to conceal their business. (Picture a beige tube sock and you’ve got the idea.) Sestero and the script supervisor (Seth Rogen) protest on Danielle’s behalf, only to be shouted down by Wiseau.
Through it all, she’s insisting that it’s fine, it’s fine.
Honestly, her saying it’s OK while she clutches the sheet to herself might be the most believable thing in the movie. Because women do it every day.
I saw “The Disaster Artist” a week or so after the accusations of sexual harassment and abuse started rolling out in Hollywood, when it seemed every hour a different man “everyone knew about” finally became really known. That was (is) also the time that brought the constant, cruel fixation on why didn’t she come forward sooner, why didn’t she get a different job, why didn’t she just tell him to STOP.
This one scene in “The Disaster Artist” shows why: Danielle is a new actress who just got a part in a movie. She consented to nudity and simulated sex. She didn’t realize until she was at her most vulnerable that her consent led to something that was now being forced upon her — which meant she now questioned what, exactly, did she consent to? Was this part of the deal, something hidden in the fine print? Speaking up means stopping filming for hours, possibly days, and that means her co-workers don’t get paid. Speaking up also means she goes on a “difficult to work with” list, which is the kiss of death for an actress, up there with having the audacity to age. She agrees to something she doesn’t want not solely because she wants more, but because she wants to keep what little she already has.
The scene is a microcosm of what women in Hollywood and in plenty of other industries have only whispered among ourselves, if we’ve spoken about it at all. Sometimes we know something is just not right — but to protect our career, it’s best to just lie back and take it.