For those who are members of the cult following behind Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room, often called the worst movie ever made, you probably associate the film with midnight screenings full of laughter at the bizarre scenes playing before you, along with audiences yelling iconic lines along with the film.
The film gained such a massive cult following because of its comedically poor filming, along with the extremely unique character of Wiseau himself, a strange-looking man with a lazy eye, long curly black locks, and ambiguous European accent. Juxtaposed with Greg Sestero, his youthful co-star with model looks, he is a strange choice for leading man in this dramatic story of love and betrayal. The writing is also unlike any other bad film, mirroring Tommy Wiseau’s non-sequiturs and accent, including lines like “I’m so happy I have you as my best friend, and I love Lisa so much,” and “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket,” not to mention a scene where a major character finds out that she has breast cancer, which goes wholly unmentioned for the remainder of the film. Watching this, audiences at late-night showings across the world revel in the hilarity of viewing this disaster artist’s masterpiece.
This year, James Franco directed The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of The Room, based on a memoir written by Greg Sestero himself, who lived with Wiseau for some time before they began making the movie together. Sestero’s book and Franco’s film serve to answer what everybody who watches The Room inevitably wonders: Who is Tommy Wiseau, how did he manage to make the “greatest bad movie ever made,” and why did he take on this endeavor? The answer remains somewhat unclear even after watching the film, but we are given some surprising insight into Wiseau’s mind, and at the end feel some empathy for him. The Room’s backstory, while wacky and bizarre, is also a surprising story about achieving dreams and overcoming a disillusioning response to those dreams.
We watch as Wiseau (James Franco) and Sestero (Dave Franco) move to LA together to pursue their dreams of acting, only to be met with continuous rejection, until eventually Sestero remarks, “I wish we could just make our own movie.” After months of hard work writing, The Room’s script is born. During filming, Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau, as writer, director, and star, refuses to hear any opinions that disagree with his vision of his brainchild of a film. He displays diva-like, and often tyrannical, behavior towards his cast and crew that mirrors the aspects of his favorite directors.
Ultimately, he leaves with a frustrated team and a virtually severed friendship with Sestero, who he does not see again until it is time for the premiere of The Room. This was the moment Wiseau could have only dreamed of – his very own creation is being played at a real Hollywood premiere. Needless to say, he is shocked when the audience viewing it, after some initial cringing, erupts in laughter, unable to stop throughout the film. A single tear falls down Wiseau’s shocked face before he storms out of the theater. In this moment of honest acting from Franco, the audience immediately sympathizes with Wiseau as a person and feels slightly guilty for laughing at the movie, too.
Included in the film is a conversation between some of The Room’s actors, who are discussing potential answers to the key question that every person who has seen the film has also wondered: Why? Why did Wiseau make this bizarre movie? The actress who plays Michelle proposes that perhaps it is autobiographical, and Wiseau had in his life a version of each character – his own Mark, Denny, Lisa, Michelle, and even Peter. This scene, while meant to be humorous, could have more truth than it seems. Wiseau is a characteristically mysterious man, not disclosing where he is from, how old he is, or why he had enough money to spend $6 million (yes, you read that right) on this brainchild film. Greg lived with him in Los Angeles, and yet knew very little about him besides that he was fiercely devoted to his dream of acting. Perhaps The Room is his story. After all, when introducing the film at its premiere, Franco’s Wiseau says, “This is my film, and this is my life.”
From The Disaster Artist we are left with more than just a hilarious synopsis of the making of the film that we all love to hate – we also are left with a lesson on embracing, and even benefitting from, seemingly failed endeavors. Wiseau has embraced the cult classic status of his film, attending screenings of it and continuing to work with Sestero as he tells this story.
What is also impressive about The Disaster Artist, besides its ability to garner sympathy for the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau, is how extremely well-done the “remake” of The Room is. We see famous faces in the film’s version of The Room’s cast, including Zac Efron as Chris R., Josh Hutcherson as Denny, and Nathan Fielder as Peter. The shooting of the scenes is practically uncanny to the actual filming of The Room, likely posing a challenge to experienced filmmakers like Franco to recreate bad filmmaking. Nonetheless, they are extremely successful, and right before the credits we are treated to a side-by-side display of scenes from The Room and The Disaster Artist’s rendering of them. They are remarkably accurate on a shot-for-shot level.
Franco masters Wiseau’s strange body movements and range of volumes in the iconic rooftop scene, stumbling and throwing his empty water bottle completely and remarkably in sync with Wiseau in the original. In the equally memorable scene where Lisa’s Mother Claudette reveals her breast cancer diagnosis, The Disaster Artist’s Claudette, played by Jacki Weaver, perfectly matches the original actress’s matter-of-fact vocal inflections and body movements. During the scene in which the four male characters toss a football around together, The Disaster Artist’s Peter, played by Nathan Fielder, falls to the ground in sync with the original Peter, while the camera follows him at the exact same, shaky angle.
This shot-for-shot remake of the original lends to The Disaster Artist’s authenticity, along with Franco’s truly uncanny characterization of Wiseau. The result makes the film even more powerful to audiences as a significantly insightful view into the making of “the best worst movie ever,” The Room. Audiences will continue to attend midnight showings at local theaters across the US. With this new film, our perceptions during those showings will be slightly altered because now we have the opportunity to see more of the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau. Although this authenticity does little to change the status of The Room as a disastrous and poorly done film, it gives us an opportunity to learn more about the true mystery of The Room, Tommy Wiseau himself.