‘The Room’ (movie): Tommy Wiseau’s bad cult masterpiece

by | May 5, 2015 | 1 comment

The Room is a $6 million movie from Wiseau Films which grossed $1,800 in its initial two-week run in Los Angeles in June of 2003. A lurid “romantic drama” starring unskilled, unknown actors, The Room employs sloppy cinematography to tell the muddled tale of a tacky love triangle. The movie features cramped and flimsy sets, incompetent green screen effects, obvious overdubbing, glaring continuity errors, and awkward, unappetizing sex scenes. Its star, the wounded Tommy Wiseau as “Johnny,” is a dark and introverted hulk of a man with long, inky black hair and a European accent. He lurks incoherently behind black wraparound sunglasses, wearing billowy silken shirts and overstuffed cargo pants, except when he’s butt naked in bed. The Room is regarded as one of the very worst movies ever made — but because it is so totally clueless regarding its heaps of bizarro flaws, it is also a riot to watch. In fact, it’s so much fun that it will be showing on some 700 screens across the United States and Canada on Wednesday night.

Bad movies — good Christmas present

Although The Room‘s cult popularity has been building steadily over the 12 years since its release, I had personally never heard of the film until this past Christmas, when our nephew Ian very thoughtfully gifted us with a hand-picked selection of bad movies on DVD. He included Foodfight!, a 2010 computer-animated film for children that the A.V. Club panned as “glaringly inappropriate in its sexuality, nightmare-inducing in its animation, and filled with Nazi overtones.” There was also Sharknado, the Syfy channel’s intentionally bad disaster movie about shark-infested water spouts, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, a 2008 romantic horror movie by James Nguyen that is so bad it’s just awful, and, topping them all, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

‘The Disaster Artist’ by Greg Sestero

As a companion to The Room in our nephew’s gift bag, there was a book called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Greg Sestero, a struggling young actor from the San Francisco area, co-starred in The Room as Mark — immortalized in internet memes by Tommy Wiseau’s line, “Oh hi Mark.” Tom Bissell, a skilled writer-journalist and contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine first wrote about The Room in that publication. Their book The Disaster Artist tells the story of Sestero’s hesitant affection for the mysterious Wiseau (Tommy pronounces it “WAHZ-oh”) over the five years preceding the The Room‘s release. Jumping back and forth between fiascos during the film’s production and their tense friendship as wannabe movie stars chasing their Hollywood dreams, their weird-but-touching loser bromance reminds me of Midnight Cowboy — although in the book, Sestero sees disturbing parallels to The Talented Mr. Ripley. The book is well-crafted, funny, poignant, and fascinating.

Tommy Wiseau, international man of mystery

The Room would never have become a cult classic were it not for its creepy-but-compelling star, Tommy Wiseau — who also conceived the entire thing, wrote it, somehow poured $6 million into it, bought the expensive and needlessly redundant cameras, hired and fired cast and crew members, directed the film, and promoted it all by himself.

Who Tommy Wiseau actually is, however, is a secret zealously veiled by Tommy Wiseau, which only makes him all the more compelling. The Disaster Artist offers a rough sketch of a boy named T—-, born in communist Eastern Europe, who develops a strong fondness for the United States of America and its movies very early on. Later, he is doing lowly restaurant work in Strasbourg, France, speaking French and calling himself Pierre. There, he is mistakenly mixed up in a drug arrest and suffers some traumatic abuse in police custody. Following this, he is “taken in” by an older man, moves to Paris where he sells handcuffs and lingerie in a sex shop, then moves again to the vicinity of New Orleans, where it turns out he has an uncle. In time, Pierre takes a Greyhound bus to San Francisco, where he starts calling himself Thomas.

San Francisco Birdman, jeans mogul

In San Francisco, he becomes known as the “Birdman” who sells yo-yos and toy boomerang birds at Fisherman’s Wharf. Combining the W of his birth surname with oiseau (French for “bird”), he legally changes his name to Thomas Pierre Wiseau. There’s another restaurant, a fiancee who turns out to be unfaithful, a kindly father figure in a cowboy hat, and then somehow a multimillion dollar business selling irregular Levi’s jeans.

Whatever the causative factors may be, Tommy Wiseau is a unique personality. His desire for fame is hopelessly tangled in his deep insecurity. His accent is unusual, but he refuses to say where he comes from, precisely. His train of thought veers off in unexpected directions constantly, but he is keenly fond of America and circles back to that point time and again, like a toy boomerang bird. He values emotional intensity above all, and the emotional intensity of James Dean in particular has impressed him deeply. Where others see a movie with countless conspicuous mistakes, he sees a profound examination of human nature on a par with the work of Tennessee Williams.

James Franco to star as Tommy Wiseau?

Tommy Wiseau’s nature has so captivated actor James Franco that Franco is now reportedly planning to play Wiseau in a film adaptation of The Disaster Artist. Back in 2013, Franco wrote a piece about The Disaster Artist for Vice in which he regards Wiseau:

He looks like he is from Bram Stoker’s Transylvania: ageless, muscled, sweet, and scary; he is part vampire, part Hollywood dreamer, part gangster, part Ed Wood, and super lonely.

In the meantime, Wiseau has brought four episodes of a sitcom called The Neighbors to Hulu. However, an A.V. Club review of The Neighbors found it to be far less comprehensible than The Room, which must be the video definition of insanity. Over at TommyWiseau.com, we see that he is also selling his own line of underwear, tank tops, The Room beanies and The Neighbors letter jackets.

‘The Room’ in theaters

Wiseau has been screening The Room for years at monthly showings in California, and occasionally at other locations around the country where, as with The Rocky Horror Picture Show before it, certain viewing rituals have developed at the screenings. (See “A Viewer’s Guide To The Room” at the A.V. Club website.) However, the movie’s biggest mass viewership by far will be happening tomorrow, May 6th, and again on May 12th as part of a special RiffTrax showing at over 700 theaters. RiffTrax consists of several of the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the genius TV show that added hilarious criticism to bad science fiction and horror movies back in the 1990s. As far as I can tell from the Fathom Events website, The Room is showing Wednesday, May 6th, at Marcus Renaissance Cinema in Sturtevant, Cinemark Tinseltown 14 in Kenosha, and Marcus South Shore Cinema in Oak Creek — all at 7 p.m. On Tuesday, May 12, there are encore showings at Marcus Renaissance Cinema in Sturtevant and Marcus South Shore Cinema in Oak Creek, both at 7:30 p.m.

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