“YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!” How the worst film ever made inspired me. Bear with me on this.
With his mane of black hair, indecipherable accent, secret origin and mysterious fortune, Tommy Wiseau is just as much an inexplicable phenomenon as his 2003 film, The Room. All that can be said about Wiseau with much certainty is that his passion – for acting, for filmmaking and for himself – is indomitable. The Room is testament enough to that.
Wiseau’s disasterpiece tells the story of Johnny (Wiseau), an all-American hero (with a suspiciously Eastern European accent, though Wiseau insists it comes from New Orleans) whose wife-to-be becomes embroiled in an affair with his best friend. It’s a simple enough premise, but throw in Wiseau’s “what did he just say?” dialogue, an endless slew of coming-and-going characters whose connections to the plot are never really explained, unusually upbeat reactions to surprisingly dark moments, a hastily forgotten breast cancer subplot, some awkward editing and a healthy dose of cringeworthy acting and you’ve got what has been hailed as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
So why am I labelling The Room an inspiration? It’s a farce of a film; there’s not a single moment in its 99 minutes of runtime that’s not utterly laughable. But fifteen years later, people are still laughing. The Room is still being played in cinemas all over the world, screenings often coming complete with a Q&A session with Wiseau himself, and they are being packed out with costume-wearing, catchphrase-yelling, spoon-hurling fans (Wiseau’s haphazard set dressing included framed photos of spoons – apparently the sample photos that came with the frames). The recent release of The Disaster Artist, James and Dave Franco’s comedy-drama based on the making of The Room, has obviously done nothing to harm the popularity of Wiseau’s original. But while The Disaster Artist may have helped bring more mainstream attention to The Room, the fact that Hollywood A-listers based a potential Oscar contender on Wiseau’s work in the first place goes to show the impact The Room has had. It is the ultimate in so-bad-it’s-good cinema, eliciting a fascination in general audiences and Hollywood alike that no other film – great or terrible – quite manages. There is something special about The Room.
This is what The Disaster Artist taps into. The Franco brothers’ film – based on the book of the same name by Wiseau’s friend and co-star, Greg Sestero, which recounted his experience of making The Room (co-authored by Tom Bissell) – is no withering send-up, nor is it a simple love letter to an unintentionally hilarious piece of cinema. It’s a look at Wiseau and Sestero, at their commitment to their film and their endless optimism. It is an attempt, at the very least, to answer the question of why The Room is so beloved. And the answer is because Tommy loved it. And Greg Sestero loved it. And, despite the difficulties they faced, they both threw their hearts and souls into this movie.
The Room may not be a conventional success story – it’s certainly not where you would want to end up after following your dreams – but, in its own bizarre way, a success story is exactly what it is. The film still packs out cinemas with devoted fans. It has become a cultural phenomenon. It has spread more joy and made a bigger impact than so many films that are, on an objective and technical level, far better. The Room is proof that terrible is not the worst thing a film can be. The worst thing a film can be is boring. Passionless. Half-hearted. The Room succeeds because of the commitment of the people who made it. When you watch Tommy Wiseau, you see his sincerity, his dedication to his film, his total commitment to his art, even if the result is not what he was hoping for. This was no cheap, joyless project – it meant something to Wiseau; it meant a lot. And that has endeared fans to it.
I take inspiration from The Room because, like anyone who has ever written or created anything, I have moments when I fear that what I’m working on is terrible. I am always experiencing what I have dubbed “The Room Syndrome,” particularly now, while working on my first feature film script. Whenever I’m writing, redrafting, struggling with a particular line of dialogue, somewhere in the back of my head a voice is saying “What if I’m creating the next worst movie ever made? What if I’m creating The Room?”. But what I am learning to accept is that there is no way to know until an audience sees the finished product. And what The Room has taught me is that making a bad movie isn’t the end of the world. You can be remembered for a bad movie. People can fall in love with bad movies. What may be the worst movie ever made is still selling out, still drawing new audiences and has just inspired a major Hollywood drama. What I have learnt from Tommy Wiseau is that, even if you have no way of knowing if people will like what you’re creating, create it with passion. Do nothing by half measures, but fill every moment with your own boundless energy. Throw your heart into your work, love everything you create, and you will reap what you sow.