If you’re going to make a stinker you might as well do it with a bang.
Although Tommy Wiseau certainly didn’t intend The Room to gain repute for being one of the worst films ever made, it is an unconventional honour that the film has since worn with a degree of ironic pride. Whilst Wiseau (who wrote, directed, produced, and took the principal role in the film) has retrospectively attempted to suggest that The Room was meant to be funny, co-star Greg Sestero’s 2013 memoir set the record straight. The book, co-written by journalist Tom Bissell, was called The Disaster Artist and has now itself been brought to the big screen by James Franco.
For those unaware of The Room and its remarkable cult following, the film tells the story of a banker named Johnny (Wiseau) who discovers his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle) has been having an affair with his best friend Mark (Sestero). Part of what makes the film particularly special, however, is the fact that Wiseau satellites his main plot with a series of random and unresolved subplots. Add to the mix characters who experience dramatic personality shifts within actual scenes and you’ve got a cinematic experience like no other.
It’s all utter nonsense, and terribly melodramatic, but there’s an odd je ne sais quoi here that somehow transcends the awful script, acting, music, direction and general production to a level of endearing hysteria. In other words: it’s so bad, it’s good.
The Room premiered in Los Angeles on 27 June 2003. Fourteen days, terrible reviews, and a ‘No Refunds’ sign on the ticket desk of one cinema, later and The Room closed in Los Angeles having made $1,800. Such a mauling would have killed any other film but not Wisenau’s baby. It just so happened that the film did manage to find a fan, in the shape of Michael Rousselet, who lauded its unintentional comic value and encouraged friends to join him in screenings.
After a hundred people showed up for the film’s closing night, Wiseau was encouraged to book a series of midnight screenings which would eventually spread right across the globe. Traditions for viewings, such as throwing plastic spoons at the screen, developed as they had for the innumerable screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Part of the growth in the film’s ‘popularity’ came down, as so often it does, to celebrities noticing the film and spreading the word. All from Will Arnett and David Cross to Seth Rogen and both Franco brothers (Dave plays Sestero in the film) identify themselves as fans, whilst Kristen Bell allegedly owns a film reel for her own private viewings.
Fittingly, for a film that started life as a play and 500-page novel before Wiseau crafted his screenplay, The Room has, in recent years, ventured into a wealth of different medias. There’s a video game, a live play, rumours of a Broadway musical and, of course, the memoir of Sestero – which too spawned an audiobook, prior to the new adaptation.
The book’s full title is: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made and it has experienced much more conventional success since its 2013 publication. Kicking off with the first time he met Wiseau, in an acting class, Sestero tells the story of the film’s origins and offers insight into the real man who created it. What makes the book so supremely enjoyable is that “the real man who created” The Room is every bit the individualistic oddity that any who have seen Wiseau in action would hope for. Funded by mysterious means, the man’s implausibility as a character would be termed far-fetched if created as a work of fiction.
It was Seth Rogen who snapped up the rights to make The Disaster Artist a film back in early 2014. With the potential to produce something somewhere between Singing in the Rain and The Producers, James and Dave Franco were the first to sign on – with the former conceding that Wiseau had originally hoped he would be played by Johnny Depp. A large and starry cast comprise the rest of the ensemble, with roles for Rogen himself, Alison Brie, Zac Efron and Sharon Stone, not to mention a selection of glitzy cameos.
The fact that Franco’s film has already started to bring in awards – and even Oscar buzz – only enhances the beauty of a situation where one man’s disaster can become another man’s art. Whether it is fair or not to label The Room as being the worst of the worst (make no mistake, it’s up there), Wiseau’s legacy really is quite remarkable. With The Disaster Artist hitting UK cinemas tomorrow, there’s still time to squeeze in a midnight viewing of the disasterpiece that inspired it. Dreadful that The Room is, the fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Oh, hi Mark.