The Room. Gosh, where do you begin with this colossal disasterpiece? How could you approach such a monumentally laughed at film with such sincerity and reverence? And how in God’s creation did a man none other than Tommy Wiseau ever succeed against all odds?
Well, having read Greg Sestero’s very personal biography, The Disaster Artist, subsequently watching James Franco’s film adaptation of the same name and as an unabashed long time fan of the cult classic, I’m going to open the case file on why The Room is far more than just ‘a really bad movie.’
Directed by Tommy Wiseau, on June 27th, 2003, The Room was released. He was also the producer, actor, writer and financier of this bizarre endeavour — this is the quintessential vanity project. It’s universally hailed as the single worst film to ever grace the screen — the Citizen Kane of bad movies. And for that reason and that reason alone, it’s ironically a remarkable achievement.
What is The Room?
Any semi-conscious person is going to be bleary-eyed with confusion if they were showcased this train wreck. This is truly a special film and not just for the gags. The simple enjoyment of sitting with intoxicated buddies wailing away at two in the morning is beyond hysterical. But I believe that it’s actually a very expressive focus on our quiet desperation in escaping isolation.
The enigmatic and ever so secretive man, Tommy Wiseau, is difficult to unravel. Who is he? Where is he (actually) from? How old is he? And how exactly did he get his bony, veiny hands on the six million dollar budget that funded The Room? For now, I’m going to keep him in the relative background because there’s one man who is practically the antithesis to Tommy on paper, but in many ways exactly the same: Greg Sestero.
Greg’s Humble Beginnings
In the beginning of his book, Greg shines light on his passion for film. At a seminal age he had a fascination for Chris Columbus‘s Home Alone. He claims that it was the film that essentially acted as the gateway drug to his raison d’etre. He wrote a screenplay for a sequel to the Christmas classic in which Macaulay Culkin’s character becomes lost in Disney World and the bandits regurgitate their previous antics of torment.
A twelve-year-old Sestero submitted this script to John Hughes’ Production Company. He received a sweet, encouraging note from Hughes himself, imploring him to pursue his dreams, although it was ultimately rejected. This pointed him in the direction of the creative arts.
However, his father was quite reticent on the whole ideation and his mother incessantly emitted contempt for this ‘pipe dream.’ She detested his early modeling in Europe as time completely squandered. Unlike Wiseau, Sestero goes into great detail with regards to his childhood and his early participation within the industry — or lack there of. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that Home Alone touched a subconscious nerve with Greg — child totally abandoned and alone.
He thought that the difficult profession of acting would be the most meaningful conduit in reaching for the stars. As he just couldn’t let go of himself, he was criticized for his insecurities and timidness when it came to theater class. He would be eaten alive by constant rejection as his method acting teacher, Jean Shelton, also told him. I think that this introverted shyness all stemmed from his family unwilling to stand by his side and also going against the grain. Averting his family values must’ve felt like a sin.
This is exactly when and where he bumped into a mysteriously confident and brooding denizen named Tommy Wiseau.
Just How Weird is Tommy Wiseau?
Wiseau is clearly an odd ball. His inaudible voice; the inexplicable accent; his somewhat Lovecraftian sense of fashion; the multiple belts holding up his pants; the Johnny Depp/vampire aura about him. The first paragraph in Sestero’s book begins with: ‘On a late summer night in 2002 he was turning the heads of every model, weirdo, transvestite, and face lift artist in and around Hollywood’s Palm Restaurant.’ You get the picture. He’s… unique.
But this is all just based on his appearance, his behavior is even stranger. Sestero sat in a dismayed audience of students in Jean Shelton’s acting workshop and watched the most jarring rendition of a Shakespearean sonnet performed by this anomalous medieval figure. Sestero curiously found this performer — this enigma — infinitely interesting.
With Sestero being an attractive but unassumingly ordinary young man, Wiseau was this… person who evidently wasn’t any of that. But it was their love for acting and film that bound them as unlikely friends.
A Match Made In Heaven
Wiseau also took interest in Sestero. Why? I believe Tommy was flattered that a stunning hunk in the prime of his life approached him. Nobody ever did. In order to make his voice heard, he had to shout. This was a positive omen. He embraced Greg with open arms but also with caution, however, keeping his past in the past.
The perfect team. Tommy’s gung-ho hubris was what Greg lacked, and Tommy desired Greg’s suitability and compatibility with Hollywood. They both recognized that they were two pieces to a peculiar puzzle.
With the disapproval of Greg’s mother, the pair decided to go to L.A. They moved in together in an apartment by which Tommy ominously already owned. Greg acquired himself an agent, Iris Burton, which was a great first sign for a struggling actor. He also landed a big role in Retro Puppet Master and was finding some spatters of precocious success.
But Tommy, on the other hand, despite his charisma and cocksure persona, fruitlessly came to no avail. In Greg’s memoir, he admits that he became gravely worried for Tommy’s mental health as he left malevolent voice mails and weirdly talked to himself in his room. This was the start to what created an awkward wedge between them and Tommy exuded envy for Greg’s progress as an actor. Who could blame him?
There is absolutely no doubt that Tommy Wiseau worked supremely hard. He attended countless drama classes all over the California strip, applied/participated in a plethora of auditions and spent so much of his own green in chasing his dream. Garnering all the glory, here was this ‘baby-faced’ kid tagging along. Devolving from bold, excited mavericks to miserably disheartened loners, their dichotomy diminished. It’s sad because most James Dean wannabes who relocate to Los Angeles experience identical tribulations.
The Room Came From a Sad Place, Not a Funny One
Tommy was unheard, ignored and degraded to being Hollywood’s equivalent of a homeless mad man. Why wasn’t he being considered as the leading man in the same fashion Greg was?
These were the circumstances for them and this was the mindset Tommy was in when he wrote The Room. It was the crucible of his depression; a product of what happens when Hollywood forces the unwanted away too many times. As James Franco stated, The Room was, in a way, Tommy’s cry out for help.
Greg harks back to when he first read the script: he read all of the characters’ lines in Tommy’s voice. But also claims that the interactions between each person was surreal. Tommy Wiseau actually being an alien from outer space posing as a human is an infamously hilarious concept that has been theorized. Whatever way you perceive it, you are seeing humankind through Tommy’s ‘alienated’ lens. Something is just… off.
Maybe Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones should investigate?
Transmuted in paper form was Tommy’s vision of how he saw the unfair world around him. Placed directly into Greg’s lap and simply titled: The Room. Tommy’s character, Johnny, is a successful banker who appears to have the full package: a lucrative job, many close friends, he’s popular and has a beautiful fiancée. It’s Tommy’s imperfect image of the American dream.
Like his juxtaposition with Greg, those are the things he doesn’t possess and clearly longs for. The character he plays is benevolent, unconditionally loyal and generous, giving Lisa numerous gifts, treating her like ‘a princess.’ He loves Lisa more than anything else in the narrative but she behaves cruelly, capricious and regularly dismissive of him — downright evil. And as we know, she cheats on Johnny with his best friend, Mark.
How The Premise Mirrors Wiseau’s Life
I think Lisa problematically represents Tommy’s love for film. I’d like you to keep this proposition in mind while reading this breakdown. She is so repetitively unattainable and impossible to please no matter how hard he tries. Causing him immense frustration, it drives him toward suicide.
Admittedly, The Room is disgracefully misogynistic with practically all the female characters casually nattering about Lisa’s infidelity shenanigans behind poor Johnny’s back. Lisa is often holding a broom. At one point at the party, after the altercation between her two lovers is extinguished, Johnny tells her to clean up — as if it’s expected. Lisa’s mother spouts out cynical statements on the framework of marriage. She says, ‘Marriage has nothing to do with love. Men and women use and abuse each other all the time.’
The villainy oozes from them. An older character like Claudette may seem — very haphazardly — as if she’s Lisa’s voice of reason as she encourages her to marry Johnny. But her aforementioned contradicting remarks convey a selfish and destructive agenda on her mind. She only imposes her opinion to benefit Lisa and not Johnny. Lisa’s friend, Michelle, acts as another angel/demon on her shoulder. The women in the film, more or less, conspire against Johnny and upon the film’s completion, they were all complicit with his death. Johnny roars invariably, “Everybody betray me!”
Is Wiseau’s muddled vista on how women behave nonsensical? I would say absolutely. Johnny/Tommy felt wronged, he felt victimized and mistreated, and it’s euphemistic to the tyranny and fickleness of Hollywood. Which brings us onto Mark, played by Greg Sestero.
Reasons are unknown as to why Mark attracts Lisa so strongly. Albeit engaging in a disreputable undertaking, he feels extremely guilt-ridden for having a sexual relationship with Johnny’s one true love.
And this was not due to inadvertent casting either. Surprisingly, Franco didn’t delve into Greg’s role as Mark as much as the book did. Wiseau weirdly had another actor cast in the part, although it was written for Greg (unbeknownst to him). And at last minute, in an effort to persuade Sestero to take the role, Wiseau sat at a green traffic light in the middle of the night in his Mercedes negotiating with him.
According to Greg, the money was eye-popping. He was already line producer and felt pressure in playing the second lead. But in spite of his girlfriend showing the same dislike for this gig his begrudging mother did about his whole career choice, he reluctantly took the part.
Another caveat of this that relates to Wiseau’s friendship with Sestero, is how the characters in The Room pass through the condo frequently. As if it’s ‘Grand Central Station’ as Lisa’s cancer riddled mother says. Similarly, Sestero, at one stage brings back his girlfriend to Wiseau’s LA home in The Disaster Artist.
The idiosyncrasies of Tommy’s abnormal life are directly screwed into the film. His best pal stabbed him in the back. This was analogous to Tommy’s perception of his own reality.
“Everybody betray me!”
Tommy’s neuroticism can be cemented by the presence of the psychologist, Peter. As he leans on the fireplace sipping his glass of water that Johnny poured for him, he ponders frankly (however abhorrently performed). ‘It’s a complicated situation, Johnny.’ To which Johnny replies: ‘But you’re psychologist. Don’t you have some advice?’
Johnny is seeking an informal counseling session from Peter as he is inundated with anguish. Someone who is typically perceived as wise is a psychologist, I would argue. Someone who is educationally qualified to have the shrewdness in solving intricate human problems or interpersonal relationship issues. Johnny values his rationale but only the most vague of answers are given. ‘You should confront her.’ It’s a microcosm for Tommy Wiseau’s troubles with getting noticed in Hollywood. It’s having a detrimental effect on his psyche.
One extra layer to this is when Mark and Peter meet with one another on the immaculately green-screened rooftop. Mark is smoking cannabis to combat his distress over this love triangle and Peter judiciously patronizes him. Peter gives further advice pretty presumptuously and offers to talk to him about his predicament. Mark attempts to murder him by almost throwing him off the balcony when Peter bluntly guesses that Mark is in bed with Lisa.
Mark’s morality is intensely examined. From this point on, he begins to experience somewhat of a slow change of heart. To symbolize that he has morphed into a more responsible gentleman, Mark is clean-shaven in his next scene. Of course (laughably), Mark and Lisa have intercourse one last time but he’s noticeably more resentful.
I don’t think the film is depicting Mark as a ‘good’ person. He isn’t someone who learns his vital lessons through his mistakes (at the point that he does, it’s too late). I think Tommy wanted to write him as a good-willed guy who was manipulated by temptation (Lisa). The same way Greg himself was inevitably leaving Tommy behind after some success in film.
“Everybody betray me.”
A character that I’ve abstained from mentioning, up until now, is Denny.
Denny is a very young and impressionable boy in his adolescence. Johnny is essentially his surrogate father, paying his tuition and giving him a place to stay in the apartment complex. He seems to be the only character that treats Johnny with unbridled endearment. He idolizes Johnny and values his opinion and presence. I think he’s the sign of innocence and hope.
He is what Johnny would have gone on to have if things worked out for the better: a son. Johnny tells Denny that he’s part of his family and comforts him in times of uncertainty. He comes across as highly flawed and vulnerable. A drug dealer gone haywire threatens to kill Denny at one point. Also, he misconstrues signals given to him by Lisa, incorrectly accrued as being of a sexual nature.
He not only seems socially inept (following Johnny and Lisa up to bed), but also neurotic and fragile. I believe he is an entity that Tommy wanted to nurture. He wanted to be supportive — paternally — but the world wouldn’t allow it; Lisa wouldn’t.
I don’t want to deviate much from my whole point of this analysis which was my notion that I truly believe The Room is a manifestation of Tommy Wiseau’s forlornly insignificant place in society.
A scene that is undeniably a fan favorite is the one in the flower store. The florist gregariously (this goes without saying at this point: with atrocious acting skills) says to Johnny, ‘Oh hi, Johnny, I didn’t know it was you.’ This implies two things: that she knows Johnny personally as she knows his name — he isn’t just any customer, he’s a friend — but also that she nearly failed to notice him. A matching interaction recurs in the coffee shop scene with the barista later on: ‘Oh hi, Susan.’
When he leaves, he pets the dog on the head saying, ‘Hi, dogey.’ I think it’s safe to assume that Tommy Wiseau, as a director, wasn’t able to direct this animal on how to perform (as the human actors quite emphatically perished themselves). Especially if Tommy just went into this shop in San Francisco and asked to shoot. Ergo, this lackadaisical pug completely ignores Tommy’s/Johnny’s existence. Just how it all must’ve sadly been for Tommy in the real world.
Most people would take this scene at face value and just pass it off as another unnecessary part of the flick (within the uneven plot of The Room, it undeniably is). I’d beg to differ. This little visit to the store encapsulates precisely what Tommy Wiseau wants: popularity and likeability.
The American Football/The American Dream
Regularly tossed around as a subliminal token is the football. Famously, The Room uses it so insurmountably that it makes you wonder: is it showing us that the characters are toying with one another’s lives? I’ve heard ambiguous hypotheses as to its eerie purpose, that whenever someone is holding the ball, they’re using it as an opportunity to honestly express themselves — which is hazardous.
The iconic ‘Oh hi, Mark‘ scene where Mark attempts to become unbolted from the secrecy, teetering on disclosing perilous information to Johnny about the affair, he is the one holding the ball at all times. Tommy Wiseau being a graduate of Laney college with a degree in psychology could also be fuel to this flame.
I can definitely see that sentiment but I’ve never taken much interest it. Instead, I think Tommy’s desire to be seen as American is synonymous with the football. As he often says to people that he is from New Orleans, his dubious background is clearly an obstacle for him when trying to connect with others and including the football in the film is his way of saying, “I’m in on American culture.” In a delusional sense, he’s enforcing this origin down our throats that he is anything but a foreigner.
Just like in Greg’s book, in one of their first encounters, they play catch in the park and Greg constantly reiterates how poorly Tommy is able to even hold the damned thing — although Tommy insists that he’s an avid super fan of the sport. To fit in, it’s used as a
subtle (well, not so subtle) tool.
In its conclusion, Johnny taking his own life was Wiseau’s foreseeable future and upon the character’s immediately exiled place in the world, the three salient characters in the story, Mark, Lisa and Denny, all exhibit morose regret. This weeping over Jesus on the cross type imagery is conducive to the fact that Johnny was the virtuous hero but also the victim surrounded by wicked enemies in disguise as friends that understood him.
I always love to say this but strip away the certitude that the film is inarguably hysterical and you’ve actually got a very psychologically tragic story. It’s almost disturbing how funny we find it. Its consequential end was focused on a man who wanted a certain life, everyone failed him no matter how hard he tried to maintain his faculties and he subsequently ended up alone, suicidal and dead.
“Everybody Betray me. I don’t have a friend in the world.”
Was it a Happy Ending For Greg Sestero?
But what’s Greg’s arc? It’s tough to see any element to this as positive for him. His girlfriend dumped him and he missed out on avenues that could’ve potentially pulled him into more affluent places in the industry. But look at him now. Indefinitely known as Mark from The Room, he’s a revered, documented source to a cult phenomenon.
His book was a bittersweet and inspiring introspection on the events that occurred. But his piece of literature is a triumphant victory that is the epicenter to an Academy Award nominated biopic. And now with such upcoming works such as starring in Justin MacGregor’s Best F(r)iends, his feature career is peculiarly and relatively rekindled.
In his account, Greg sits down to watch The Room with his estranged family in his childhood home via an old dusty TV and they all warmly and uproariously hold their stomachs crying with laughter. The Room brought him unexpectedly closer to his family. Who doesn’t like a happy ending?
The Room‘s Unique Legacy
I know I must sound like that guy at the tail end of the party in a drunken stupor. Slumped in the corner of the room (pardon the pun), pontificating a slew of articulate bull faeces. I’m not at all trying to say that The Room is actually a misunderstood masterpiece. No. I’ll put hand to heart and fully concur that The Room is one of the most abysmally bad movies I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Its execution, composition, acting, dialogue, continuity, EVERYTHING is so indefensibly poopy. As Seth Rogen said, ‘The Room is so bad, yet so enjoyable, that it makes you actually question the nature of quality itself.’ The Room makes me wonder how we can discern a bad movie from a good one if such a project has withstood the test of time. In hindsight, it garnered the same results of a great movie. It IS objectively terrible, so terrible that it’s almost as if it’s impervious to criticism which is mind-boggling to comprehend.
But if someone expresses themselves via any art form, is it really a failure? How The Room separates itself from the divine library of shockingly awful movies in a seemingly endless stratosphere is its sheer heart. It’s got so much heart and soul. Precious golden nuggets can be found in the badness of movies and The Room is what got me hooked. That’s why I adore it.
Its cult following — now seeping more and more into the mainstream by the day — may have initially been only trivial or dormant, plateauing for the first years of its life, but its eventual prominence rose in an unprecedented trajectory. And although it isn’t technically good and not deliberately bad, I truly believe that this is Tommy Wiseau’s unabridged outlook on ‘his planet.’
It Meant So Much to be a Filmmaker
Ironically, his inability to act convincingly was what portrayed him as his true self which was the outrageous beauty of it. But the crux to this crazy journey is that Tommy and Greg found each other and independently broke free from a barren landscape outside Hollywood, percolated with solitude and hopelessness.
In Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist, when Tommy premieres his baby to a live audience for the first time, he says that he couldn’t have made it if it weren’t for his best friend Greg. He sees Tommy sitting down in a dark, packed theater, taking off his shades and wiping fresh tears off his cheeks.
To Tommy, the critical judgement of whether the film was good or bad was almost irrelevant. He achieved his goal: he made his movie, he crafted his magnum opus, expressed himself, made history and found a best friend in the process — all in the land of opportunity.
I don’t think there’s a better way to end this than in Tommy Wiseau’s words himself: “If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live.”
Thanks for reading! Have you seen The Room/The Disaster Artist? Comment below with your thoughts to keep the conversation going!
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