There are some films that are good because, well, they are good. There are some films that are great because they are great. There are some films that are mediocre because they are mediocre, some that are bad because they are bad, and a few that are good because they are bad. None of these categories apply to The Room. The Room is so extraordinarily bad that it is one of the greatest film experiences imaginable.
For those who have not seen it (and you should do so immediately), The Room is ostensibly a film about a man, Johnny, and his “future wife” and “best friend” (we are told this approximately every 15 seconds in the film) who engage in an affair. Tommy Wiseau, the film’s creator, writer, lead actor, director, and everything else, intended this to be a tragic work in the tradition of Shakespeare, Orson Welles, James Dean et al. We are meant to sympathise with Johnny, be distraught at his plight, and leave the film with a huge emotional outpouring. We do, but it is an outpouring of bafflement and laughter. The characters have no depth, they are walking contradictions, the dialogue is incomprehensible (Wiseau forbade anyone from making the script more intelligible as it was his “vision”), storylines are created and then instantly dropped, such as a character having breast cancer, which is never mentioned again.
Wiseau is an awful writer, filmmaker and actor. He takes awful to a whole new level; it is impressive just how bad he is. The Room warrants multiple viewings, just to grasp the incompetence of it. I have seen it around 20 times, and every time I notice something new that just adds to the atrociousness of it all. It is impossible to describe how bad it is, it needs to be watched.
The film experience is not about Johnny and the betrayal, it is about how this film ever happened. Who is Tommy Wiseau? How did he ever think this film was good? (Wiseau still believes it to be a masterpiece). What was the process like? Who are these other actors? Finally, some of those questions have been answered in ‘The Disaster Artist’, written by Greg Sestero, who plays Johnny’s best friend Mark. The book, an exposé of the making of The Room, and the life and mind-set of Wiseau, is wonderful. It is hysterical, fascinating, and elicits genuine wonderment. The tales of the film’s creation is, if possible, even more astonishing and funny than the work itself. It asks questions of friendship, the American Dream, delusion, obsession, youth, and the nature of pursuing a goal that is clearly beyond one’s capabilities and, arguably, succeeding.
Wiseau has no talent in the area he dreams about, but he has created a famous, beloved piece inspiring obsessively devoted fans, who flock to screenings for a chance to meet the man himself. The Disaster Artist makes us contemplate whether Wiseau has failed miserably in his attempt to be a great auteur, or whether he has succeeded with his ambitions of fame and fortune. It goes beyond being a behind-the-scenes look at The Room, it becomes a character study of the captivating Wiseau. He is an unintentional comic genius, but he is desperately lonely, fame hungry, deluded, obsessive, wounded, and at times downright nasty and scary. His talent in no way matches his ego, but he is a juxtaposition of astonishing arrogance and naivety, a brash exterior concealing a fragility and inferiority within. Sestero could have gone down the route of providing solely hilarious anecdotes, but he pairs them with an insight into the deeper characters of both himself and Wiseau. Sestero is affable, funny, and smart. He clearly possesses the charm, intelligence and disposition that Wiseau craves, leading to an intense jealousy and obsession that Sestero compares to The Talented Mr Ripley. One of the highlights of the book is the Mr Ripley section, with the wonderful revelation that Wiseau erroneously named Sestero’s character, Mark, after the actor “Mark Damon”.
Sestero reveals his own insecurity and struggles to become an actor, and the book acts as a warning and depiction of trying to make it in LA, in a comparable way to Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. He provides an insight into the mind-set of those involved in The Room, all in stark contrast to Wiseau’s belief in its brilliance and totalitarian approach to its creation. Some, Sestero included, see the film as their big chance to make it in LA, a quiet desperation imbuing the tales of the initial production. This makes way for increasing frustration and anger at Wiseau’s methods, including his refusal to pay crew members, his lack of filmmaking knowledge coupled with his overwhelming arrogance, and his nonsensical, impossible ideas for the script, such as his idea for his car to fly off the roof because of a sudden subplot that “maybe Johnny is a vampire”.
I urge everyone to watch The Room, and read The Disaster Artist. They are both masterpieces in their own right, each aiding the other yet standing up by themselves. Neither can fully reveal the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau; the layers are never-ending, the fascination insatiable. Unlike The Room, The Disaster Artist is great for all the right reasons. And The Room? Well, The Room is a tour de force of ineptitude. In this instance, that can be more insightful, and have more depth, than an intentional work of genius.