Even if you’ve never seen The Room, you’ve probably heard of it.
Routinely declared the worst movie ever made (for good reason), the surreal drama/inadvertent comedy was written, directed and produced by Tommy Wiseau, an enigmatic actor of unknown origin who also chose to star in his passion project, in the hope that it might launch his career.
Wiseau’s IMDB page only lists 12 acting credits, so that part clearly didn’t pan out, but The Room did earn the enthusiastic thespian some cult credibility, as the trainwreck quality of his masterwork struck a chord with cinephiles and bad movie aficionados alike, keeping it in steady rotation on the midnight movie circuit to this day.
The plot of The Room, such as it is, revolves around Johnny (Wiseau), who’s apparently a “banker” — although the script seems to have no idea what that entails; Johnny’s fiancee, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who’s basically a lady of leisure thanks to Johnny’s big bucks, but ostensibly works in “computers”; and Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), a rudderless dreamboat.
Chaos and inexplicable reactions ensue when Lisa decides to have an affair with Mark, and it all unravels from there, interspersed with random appearances by Johnny and Lisa’s various friends, who offer nothing to the plot and are generally interchangeable.
The clunky dialogue, messy editing and overwrought acting make The Room ripe for audience participation, following in the footsteps of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its anarchic interactive screenings. Fans lucky enough to catch the movie in theaters can expect a party atmosphere where shouting at the screen, throwing spoons and tossing footballs is actively encouraged.
Despite being unadulterated trash — or possibly because of it — The Room has amassed plenty of celebrity fans over the years, including James Franco, Dave Franco and Seth Rogen, who were clearly so obsessed with its particular brand of insanity that they decided to recreate it. They chose to adapt Sestero’s memoir of the making of The Room, titled The Disaster Artist, which gives some backstory on how Wiseau and Sestero first met, as well as The Room’s tumultuous journey from page to screen, including Wiseau’s many meltdowns, demands and missteps on set.
James Franco stars as Tommy Wiseau and also directs, adding a meta layer to the art-imitates-life surreality of the project, while younger brother Dave stars alongside him as Greg Sestero (which adds an even weirder undercurrent to the palpable homoerotic tension between Tommy and Greg).
The Big Question
If you’re a chicken (cheep cheep cheep!), and want to skip the original, rest assured that without the context of The Room, The Disaster Artist is a compelling glimpse into the moviemaking process (mostly as an example of what not to do, but hey), and a fascinating character study of a deeply eccentric but ultimately human guy who’s just trying to pursue his dream.
You can still admire James Franco’s transformation — even if you’ll miss a lot of the hilarity of his Wiseau impression by not recognizing how impressively accurate it is — and the plot is so unbelievable, the decisions so bonkers, you’ll probably appreciate it on a “truth is stranger than fiction” level.
Unlike the cast of The Room, The Disaster Artist has also assembled top tier talent to commit to this lunacy, and commit they do — recreating some of the original film’s most memorable scenes shot-for-shot, sometimes right down to the specific inflections and gestures of their characters.
So yeah, The Disaster Artist is an enjoyable movie in its own right, and you’ll definitely have fun watching it — but context is everything. To fully appreciate the madness, you need to embrace it, forsaking the life you knew and descending headfirst into the darkness that resides within the souls of men.
If you can, seek out a showing in a city near you; there are monthly (or sometimes weekly) screenings coming up in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Diego, many of which feature a live appearance and Q&A by Wiseau himself — a tradition the multi-hyphenate has maintained for years (although he still won’t tell you where he’s from or where he gets his money, no matter how often you ask).
If you can’t see it in a theater with a crowd of rabid, spoon-throwing Room fans, do the next best thing and gather a group of your bravest friends for a private show, and be sure to research the proscribed viewing party activities so that you come prepared with the necessary props. But no matter how dedicated you are, do not attempt the disgusting drink that Tommy and Lisa imbibe early in the movie — only doom awaits you if you follow that path.
You can buy the DVD and Blu-ray from Tommy Wiseau’s website and nowhere else, along with a collection of Wiseau-designed boxers (because why not?) and other merch.
Above all, in the immortal words of Tommy Wiseau himself, “don’t plan too much. It may not come out right.”
The Disaster Artist is in theaters now.