You never forget your first time seeing “The Room.” Tommy Wiseau’s epic of awfulness is the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, according to Entertainment Weekly. Whether you saw it at midnight with an infectious crowd (as yours truly did) or with friends on DVD, or even that lucky few who saw it during its theatrical run, it’s unforgettable. With “The Disaster Artist” opening this week, what better time to look into the cult of “The Room” than now? This is a modern day “Ed Wood,” with Wiseau and Wood true kindred spirits. Tim Burton turned that tribute to an untalented filmmaker into an Oscar-winning biopic. James Franco has done something similar here. “The Disaster Artist” is not just the best film of the year, it’s a likely Academy Award nominee as well.
First of all, what exactly is “The Room” about? Ostensibly, it’s designed to be a Tennessee Williams-style drama about a banker named Johnny (played by Wiseau himself, who also writes and directs). He lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who happens to be having an affair with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). That’s the basic plot, though there are myriad diversions, random moments, and conversations that go nowhere. It’s all made hypnotically bad by Wiseau’s atrocious delusions and decisions, both in front of and behind the camera. He believed he was making an Oscar-worthy epic. Instead, he crafted something even rarer…the great bad movie.
To understand what makes “The Room” the conversation piece that it is, I recruited former Awards Circuit contributor Myles Hughes (who introduced me to the flick almost a decade ago) and current Staff Writer Mark Johnson. The former is a long time fan, while the latter had never seen it before. The perfect duo to comment. This is what they had to say:
Myles – “There are many contenders for the dubious title of Best Worst Movie Ever. Some, like “Troll 2” and “Birdemic,” achieve entertainment value through sheer bewilderment, causing audiences to wonder if its creators understand the bare minimum of what makes a film coherent. Others, like “Batman and Robin” or “Battlefield Earth,” take a similar perverse fascination and blow it up to the studio level, where recognizable stars and industry professionals find themselves in the same whirlwind of baffling strangeness that becomes entertaining in spite of itself. What makes Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” truly stand out isn’t just its incompetence or the confusing execution of every conceivable aspect of production. What stands out is a profound sense of earnestness throughout the entire movie. It has heart. It cares deeply about the story it’s telling, no matter how poorly it tells that story. Wiseau transparently has no idea what he’s doing, but he goes for it anyway with a combination of passion and bravado that proves infectious. While there are basic technical issues throughout, what really hooks people is the sheer strangeness on display. From the now-iconic line readings to the perplexing narrative structure, this is a film that allows one to discover something new and bizarre every time they watch it. The fact that it’s played almost entirely straight merely accentuates its charm. There have certainly been worse movies than “The Room,” but none has quite captured the unique and entirely accidental alchemy that allows it transcend the trappings of failed melodrama and achieve a state of divine comedy that is fully deserving of its ravenous fan base.”
Mark – “It was so cheesy and terrible, in a very dated sort of sense. I began to guess the year it was made, assuming 1983/1984. My jaw hit the floor to discover it was made in 2003. There are no excuses for how bad this film is. I see now why a film like “The Disaster Artist” needed to be made.”
Both of them hit the nail on the head, albeit for different reasons. Myles does his own deep dive, laying out point for point part of why the film is now in a pantheon that used to be dominated by “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Conversely, Mark perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to see the movie for the first time. We often joke on the site that this middle-aged white guy from Ohio is your approximation of a garden variety Oscar voter, so this could be how any Academy member would see “The Room.” The key here is his final thought, stating that he gets the appeal for “The Disaster Artist” existing. You don’t need to have seen Wiseau’s work to appreciate what Franco pulled off, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
“The Room” has become a cult classic, and rightly so. Monthly screenings feature a celebration of its ineptitude, with every bizarre decision given celebrity status. Footballs and spoons are thrown. The repeated pans across the Golden Gate Bridge are rooted for like a sports chant. Plus, dozens of quotes, some of which have even seeped into the mainstream. This has all come after celebrities like Kristen Bell, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen discovered it, some of whom appear in “The Disaster Artist.” In between, speculation over how Wiseau found the money to make the picture, who the hell he is, and what the hell he was thinking has spurred a deep interest in the film. It has definitely become a true cult classic.
This brings us to “The Disaster Artist” and Franco’s vision of Wiseau. Don’t sleep on what scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have done, translating Sestero’s book, but Franco is the star. In front of and behind the camera, he makes Wiseau someone you inexplicably root for. Along with Neustadter and Weber, Franco understands “The Room” and why it has the appeal that it does. As Myles states above, it isn’t so much that the movie is bad, but that Wiseau, despite his lack of talent, is so passionate about it that you can’t help but want to see him go the distance. The three make him a comedic figure, but also somewhat of a tragic one as well. When he gets his ultimate glory, you want to stand up and cheer.
One of the best moments in any film this year comes at the very end of “The Disaster Artist.” Side by side clips showcase actual footage from “The Room” with the recreated ones for the movie. The likeness is uncanny. Kudos to the production designers here for doing work that legitimately deserves awards recognition. These clips show the care Franco and company gave to Wiseau’s vision. Not only is it hilarious, it’s touching too. The affection for the original is evident and will make you smile from ear to ear.
Watch out for this to be an Oscar player. Now, it won’t contend for double digit nominations or anything like that, but a shut out seems unlikely. Best Picture may end up a longer shot, but Franco’s work as Wiseau seems poised to be feted in Best Actor. Likewise, Neustadter and Weber should see their streak of being passed over by the Academy end with a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. A comedy like this often can struggle with prestige awards, but the touching nature of the work help. Plus, as mentioned above, this is a celebration of moviemaking. If voters love anything, it’s rewarding that sort of sentiment.
Fans of “The Room” will love “The Disaster Artist.” In turn, those who discover “The Disaster Artist” independently will also soon understand the cult of “The Room.” Be they Academy members or regular audience members, an underground classic is about to hit the mainstream in a whole new way. Opening on a platform basis starting on December 1st, the film is the cream of the 2017 cinematic crop. All this from a legendarily bad movie. Go figure.
Leave a comment with any thoughts on “The Disaster Artist” or “The Room” you might have!
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