“If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live.”
— Tommy Wiseau
“How bad can it be?” you may ask as a virgin of the film your friends hound you to see, claiming it to be the worst movie ever. “Why would I want to see that?” is another question that might spring to mind. As the opening credits roll, you start drawing conclusions that this seems like it might just be cheesy and cheap in a Lifetime movie sort of way.
But once the first scene opens with just two words, “Hi babe!” you’ll likely find your mouth agape, brow furrowed, wondering how two simple words could have been delivered so poorly.
Set in what appears to be a very temporary living room solely for the purposes of filming, the characters express a desire to go to bed in the middle of the day. These things are only part of the opening problems. A sassy blonde appears enamoured by the protagonist who woos her with a red dress that he picked out himself. But this attraction is confusing, as her betrothed barely passed as human in the way he spoke, and the same can be said for his appearance.
No stereotypical bias sways your opinion of him because you have never seen anything like him before. Distorted lumpy features, joker smile, and long, wavy dyed black hair. Did it get that way as he crawled out of the Black Lagoon? From this moment on, after suffering through three gratuitous sex scenes in the first 15 minutes (your friends assure you that’s the worst of it), you gleefully forge ahead as the high level of disjointed and incomprehensible dialogue, random declarations of breast cancer that will never be mentioned again, impromptu football tossing, which characters are happy doing just three feet apart from one another, only scratch the surface of the wreck you can’t turn away from that is The Room (deemed by many notable publications as the worst movie ever made). By the end of your first viewing (if not, definitely the second) you find you’ve unexpectedly joined a worldwide cult of fellow filmgoers.
I first caught The Room in 2007 on DVD, four years after its release and already, I joined a decent sized following in Los Angeles who were semi-regulars at the monthly screenings at the Laemmle Sunset 5. Going from around 30 people at my first screening, attendance shot up to all five screens sold out after a six-page Entertainment Weekly article in late 2008 triggered the global eruption of this unnatural disaster. People didn’t even love to hate it: they loved to love it.
Such screenings came with a barrage of rituals like shouting out certain phrases at certain moments, throwing footballs when the characters do, and perhaps the most revered of all is throwing plastic spoons at the screen whenever the inexplicably, a spoon appears on screen.
All of this raises so many questions. Once initiated, you quickly learn that the film was written, produced, directed by and stars the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau of the aforementioned, cringe-inducing “Hi babe!” Rumour has it the film was made for $6 million, which is baffling, given its shonkiness.
Tommy (as we all refer to him) will never reveal where he’s from (though he once said “New Orleans” to me during a Q&A) and swears up and down he’s an American (hence all the football, obviously). Amidst racking up 33 viewings in a mixture of DVD and live screenings, I fancied getting to the bottom of it all and writing my own book, though cracking the impenetrable Tommy seemed no easy feat. Thankfully with The Disaster Artist, the book I hoped to write has now been written by the person most intimately connected with the debacle of Tommy’s mind, co-star, best-friend (and Line Producer), Greg Sestero.
The Disaster Artist sets out to explain the genesis of this vanity project that ended up compelling audiences from Portugal to Antarctica. While it’s difficult to pin point what actually makes the creator tick, we at least get a joyful stream of him trying to explain himself. Figuring Tommy out is a challenge which no one can expect to ever truly get to the bottom of, but Sestero takes us as close to the sun as we will ever get.
The book opens at possibly the most important juncture of Sestero’s journey with Tommy: that moment when his life would unknowingly change forever. The final moments in the precipice of his life before starring in The Room.
One only need watch the interview with Tommy on the DVD’s bonus features to get a sense how… not quite right he is. Catching him at a screening or even just checking out the behind the scenes DVD extra reveals an often cranky, abrasive, and dark figure, a real juxtaposition with the vision of himself he portrays in his character Johnny: the kindest, most loving, sensitive, and generous man who ever lived. Sestero knows the audience wants more of the real Tommy and indeed, we are rewarded with titillating anecdotes about him, so bizarre they would read as fiction to anyone unfamiliar with him.
Despite the somewhat harsh feelings I’d developed for Tommy over the years, I wondered how betrayed he might feel about the telling of his story. The guy is so paranoid, it’s revealed he didn’t even want fellow acting students to know what kind of car he drove. Yet it quickly becomes clear that Sestero respects Tommy’s boundaries. The reader can wallow in Tommyism after Tommyism without completely encroaching of every aspect of Tommy’s life. Sestero indulges us in “Tommy dirt” and affirms many of the stories we’d suspected about him.
At screenings, Tommy is badgered, cheered, and jeered at like a sports mascot, all of us apparently forgetting there’s a feeling person inside. While Tommy often makes it hard to be sympathetic towards him, Sestero shows us the wounded, determined, and desperate for acceptance side of Tommy. Along with a near complete detachment from reality is an optimism that’s inspiring and infectious, and Sestero makes sure we know the positive impact working with Tommy had on his life. Albeit in unconventional ways, Tommy pushed and motivated Sestero when he was at some of his lowest points trying to make it as an actor in L.A. The mix of hilarious tales while still giving credit where it’s due shows a very honest account, which leaves me doubting very little, if anything, of what’s contained.
The making of The Room portions are the “real porn” for any fan, with detailed accounts of many key scenes including one of the most revered “I did not hit her! It’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did NAHT…oh hai, Mark!” What appears like a first take without a rehearsal is actually the best of 32.
The hijinks on the set go beyond the wildest dreams of any seasoned viewer. I would never have guessed Tommy went so far as to construct his own personal toilet on set. Throughout the book we have one of our deep desires fulfilled: to hear more from Tommy in that unique Tommy voice. Quote after quote with his peculiar phrasing allow us to hear more Tommy-talk in our heads and practice our own Tommy voice.
Golden Globe? So what. I’m not invited. Who cares? Let’s go eat. Go see feature movie. Find some chicks or something! I’m bored with this apartment. I can’t be in cage all day long. Why you keep me in cage? I think I will get married soon.
If it sounds as though you should see the movie before reading The Disaster Artist, I urge you to reconsider. The book is written with you in mind, never assuming that everyone reading it is in the club. Scenes are set for you, allowing you to jump in and join us for the ride. If you do read it cold and then proceed to the movie, wow! With that build up, I must say, I envy you.