The upcoming release of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist (2017) has breathed new life into the mystique surrounding Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Franco’s film, based on the novel of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, chronicles the conception and chaotic production of The Room, shedding some light on its subsequent cult status and the strange man behind it all, Tommy Wiseau. The film has developed a following as a result of being “so bad its good,” and that could not be more true. I feel obligated to give the film a one-star rating because, frankly, it is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It is a complete car crash from top to bottom, but therein lies its appeal. Much like a car crash, it is impossible to look away, and The Room is truly a film that must be seen to be believed.
The plot, and I’m playing it fast and loose with the term, follows Johnny (played by writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau), who lives with his future wife, Lisa (Juliette Danielle). However, Lisa proclaims to her mother that she doesn’t really love Johnny, and proceeds to initiate an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Meanwhile, Johnny’s young neighbour, Denny (Philip Haldiman), who looks up to Johnny as a father figure, falls into debt to a drug dealer, and must be rescued by Johnny and Mark. As Lisa becomes increasingly brazen about her affair with Mark, Johnny seeks the help of a psychiatrist to guide him through his strained relationship. The final act sees Lisa’s sociopathic behaviour having dire consequences for Johnny.
While the above summary almost sounds like a coherent plot, I assure you that this is not at all the case. The story (to say nothing of the technical aspects of the film) is rife with inconsistencies, bizarre digressions, and undeveloped subplots. There is frequently dialogue that is both grammatically incorrect and out of place within the context of the scene, as well as behaviour and acting that hardly feels human. Tommy Wiseau simultaneously overacts and looks as if he is half asleep in every scene. The sound design is horrendous, with much of Wiseau’s dialogue requiring poorly executed voiceover recordings. The production was marked by frequent walkouts and firings, unnecessary expenditures, and a complete ignorance of proper filmmaking practices. If this entire debacle sounds ripe for comedy, that’s because it is; The Room will make you laugh until you cry, or simply shake your head in disbelief, but either way, it is difficult not to be entertained and mesmerised by such a supremely horrible film.
This brings me to the mastermind and driving force behind the entire project, Tommy Wiseau. With stringy black hair and the perpetual look of someone who just emerged from a week-long bender, Wiseau is not your typical leading man. When he speaks, it seems as if aliens have hijacked a human body and are struggling to make it function correctly, in respect to both his unidentifiable accent and outlandish mannerisms. But this is also what makes watching The Room a somewhat depressing experience, as Wiseau is an incredibly pitiable figure, to say nothing of his terrible filmmaking. Little is known about the man himself (or how he managed to fund a $6 million film on his own), but much can be learned about him just by watching his magnum opus.
Something that becomes increasingly apparent as one watches The Room is that it is a vehicle for Wiseau’s ego. He plays a successful banker, who is a romantic and passionate lover to Lisa (despite her transgressions), a commendable father figure to Denny (despite his transgressions), and a loyal and trusting friend to Mark (despite his transgressions). He attempts to wax philosophic and tries desperately to achieve a “cool guy” persona that is far beyond his reach. Without even reading anything about the making of the film, it is obvious that Wiseau based Johnny’s doomed relationship on real events (or at least his perception of real events), and that the film functions as a kind of misguided letter to his ex-girlfriend, as if to say, “Do you see what you did? Look how terrible you were to me!” The whole thing wreaks of a high school teenager deep in the throes of a bad breakup, unable to express their feelings in a way that is anything but cringe-worthy.
Herein lies the issue with the many “fans” of The Room, as well as the book and upcoming film chronicling its making. For the most part, people are making fun of Wiseau. There is no denying it. I laughed to the point of tears while watching it, but, despite mixed reports from Wiseau himself, it is pretty obvious that he took this project very seriously and never intended it to be anything less than an emotionally gripping erotic thriller. I am not a medical professional, nor do I think I am capable of diagnosing anyone (especially someone that I have never personally met), but it seems apparent that there is a disconnect between Wiseau and reality. When a film is this bad, and a performance this bizarre, and the “message” of the movie so blatantly try-hard and sad, it is hard to find any cause other than mental illness. It sounds as if I am making a joke, but even as I laughed at the film, I couldn’t hold back an intense feeling of sadness and pity for Tommy Wiseau. I have been around enough people with mental illnesses to know the signs, and it just seems clear that we are all laughing at a man who is deserving of sympathy, not ridicule. The problem with this, of course, is that it is very rare for someone with a serious mental illness to secure these kinds of funds for a film, and then to write a script that is so personal to themselves, inadvertently showcasing their mental state to the world. It feels as if he is begging to be ridiculed, but that doesn’t make him any less pitiable.
Again, I don’t want to overstep my bounds by assuming without a doubt that Wiseau suffers from some kind of mental illness, or pretend that I am not culpable in mocking him. Perhaps he is just eccentric and completely lacking in self-awareness. Either way, I cannot pretend that I haven’t become fascinated by his persona, his film, and the unintentional comedy that has arisen from his work. It is one of those films that you will probably want to watch again and again, and go tell all your friends to watch, too. Even though this is possibly the worst film I have ever seen, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Everyone should drop what they’re doing and go watch The Room.
Rating: ★ out of 5
The Room is available to purchase via Amazon here.