“The magic of The Room derives from one thing: No one interprets the world the way Tommy Wiseau does.”
– Author’s Note, The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, 2013
The original billboard advertising The Room. Source: Inverse Entertainment.
James Franco broke my heart.
Okay, that’s not strictly true. It was probably a bland group of grey-suited men in a Warner Bros. Pictures office who broke my heart by deciding not to release The Disaster Artist in Malaysia. Based on the book of the same name, The Disaster Artist is a film that chronicles the development of what people call ‘the worst movie ever made’. By all accounts, The Disaster Artist has gotten great reviews and is doing well in the box office, but we’ll never see it because it isn’t showing in Malaysian theatres. Warner Bros. dangled James Franco in front of me and then ripped him away, laughing maniacally all the while.
But this is not a review of The Disaster Artist. This is a review of the worst movie ever made. It’s called The Room.
And I love this movie. I love it so much.
The Room is the brainchild of Tommy Wiseau. Tommy is a mysterious figure. He’s secretive about his age and country of origin. His accent is impossible to place, sounding like a cross between French and a Slavic language, with a New Orleans lilt thrown in. He shows up in an acting class in San Francisco and meets Greg Sestero, a young up-and-coming actor who becomes his best friend. A number of years later, Tommy recruits Greg to be a part of The Room, a play he wrote that he wants to adapt to film. Tommy serves as writer, director, producer, and lead star of his passion project.
Except there’s one tiny problem: He is terrible at literally everything.
No, seriously, watch this.
I know, it’s so bad.
Behind The Scenes of a Terrible Movie
Tommy cannot act, has no idea how film production works, and is a nightmare on set. Tommy replaces the camera crews twice after they both quit in frustration. He spends an insane amount of money filming in both 35mm and HD video formats side by side, hiring a separate crew and inventing a strange contraption to let him do so, only to throw away all of the HD footage. Minutes-long scenes take hours or days to film as he struggles to remember his own lines. The budget skyrockets. Six million dollars went into producing The Room, and it does not show in the final production quality.
It becomes a hit—initially premiering in 2003 and building a reputation around Los Angeles as a movie that’s so-bad-it’s-good, a movie that is horrible but laughably so. The Room becomes a phenomenon, shared on message boards and spawning countless parodies and adaptations. The cast members are invited to screenings all around the world. Fans develop strange traditions, like throwing plastic spoons at the screen at certain parts of the film. In 2013, Greg Sestero writes a memoir about The Room’s hellish production, called The Disaster Artist. In 2017 a movie adaptation of that book is released, directed by and starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. Except it isn’t released in Malaysia, and James Franco breaks my heart.
Pictured: James Franco as Tommy Wiseau/Breaker of hearts. Source: Youtube
A Cult Classic of Awfulness
The Room itself has a fairly simple plot. All-around great guy Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a wealthy banker who lives in San Francisco with his future wife Lisa (Juliette Danielle), in the same building as his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), and a young man named Denny (Philip Haldiman), who Johnny sees as a sort of son, paying his rent and college tuition. Lisa grows bored with her engaged life and seduces Mark, and they begin an affair that Johnny eventually finds out about.
The film is bizarre. The tone goes all over the place. Characters suffer from some kind of mood whiplash syndrome, going from angry to cheerful faster than an amnesiac goldfish. Plot threads are picked up at random and then just as quickly dropped—at one point, Lisa’s mother says something along the lines of “I got the test results back, I definitely have breast cancer,” only to be dismissed by her daughter telling her not to worry about it. That plot line is never brought up again. Random scenes are thrown in with no context. An attempted murder is forgiven immediately and brushed off. The gang plays football in an alley, wearing tuxedos. Denny is held at gunpoint by a drug dealer, only to have Johnny and Mark save him and the drug dealer taken to the police in the span of two minutes, and the entire incident is completely forgotten about.
Yes, they’re playing football in tuxedos. Nobody knows why, not even the cast. Source: The Room, 2003
It is also outrageously misogynist. Lisa is repeatedly called a ‘manipulative bitch’, her mother goes on and on about how Johnny is a great person, and more importantly, a good provider, and every character seems to blame Lisa primarily for the affair, including Mark.
The dialogue is surreal, full of things no human being would actually say. My favourites are when Johnny taunts Mark and goes “You not good, you’re just a chicken, cheep cheep cheep cheep,” leading to a fight. When the fight is broken up, he throws his hands up in the air and says “Everybody betray me, I fed up with this world!” Certain words and phrases are repeated endlessly, eventually turning into mush in your head by the movie’s end; the line “Wow Lisa you are so beautiful” has been permanently etched into my brain. Johnny inserts his signature laugh into inappropriate scenes, bemoans the fact that people betray him, and greets his best friend with a characteristic ‘oh hi Mark’.
And the sex scenes. They are bad. They are so bad.
“I think half of the guys on the crew had to suppress every chivalrous impulse they had during filming to keep themselves from pulling Tommy off her—especially during the shot in which Johnny appears to be impregnating Lisa’s navel.“ – Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist (2o13).
A Testament To Bravery
And yet, I have loved this film ever since I saw it three years ago. I love it so much. I love laughing at the bad acting and set design and dialogue. I love quoting its lines out of context (woe to my friends named Mark), I love showing it to people— there are close friends, acquaintances, girls I have a crush on, teachers, and classmates who all hate me a little bit more now for having shown them this movie. And honestly, I just love watching it. It’s like a fancy arthouse film that breaks all the rules of film-making.
Great movies will always be produced. Art that moves you on an emotional and spiritual level, films that make you question your beliefs, works of stunning beauty that leave you on the verge of tears? We’ll always see more of that, year after year. But there will only ever be one The Room. It was a perfect storm of badness.
Having read The Disaster Artist, part of me admires Tommy for just getting it made in the first place. How many times have I stopped myself from pursuing a project, writing something, or auditioning for a role because I was sure it was going to suck and everyone was going to laugh at me? (Answer: a lot).
The Room taught me that even if we suck at something, there’s a certain pride we can take in going through with what we want to do. And even if people laugh at our failures, we can still turn that failure into something beautiful, something that brings joy to ourselves and to other people. And that’s why I love The Room.
You can probably find a full version of the movie on Youtube, not that I would ever advocate breaking copyright law, *cough cough*. In the meantime, watch this trailer from The Disaster Artist, adapted word-for-word from the original memoir:
I will never forgive James Franco.
By Jack Kin Lim (featured guest writer)