author: shelbi glover | a&c writer
Looking at James Franco’s take on the cult classic, The Room
There are few films that truly manage to stand the test of time. Titanic is one of them; there isn’t one of us who doesn’t tear up a little every time we hear the opening notes to “My Heart Will Go On.” Another is Star Wars (the originals, of course). And, of course, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is a favorite to film buffs and straight boys everywhere.
There’s another film that belongs with these greats, but stands out drastically from them. When Tommy Wiseau’s The Room hit theaters (well, a few theaters in California) in 2003, nobody – not even the cast or crew – expected it to be a success. Nobody except Tommy himself, of course, who made sure the film was kept in theaters long enough to be a candidate for the Academy Awards. Within communities of college students, it was a hit; almost immediately, the film became a cult classic. It’s notorious for being the worst movie of all time; in fact, it’s been described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
If you’ve never seen it before, you’re probably wondering what makes it so bad. Those of us who have seen it have only one answer: everything. Everything about it is a train wreck, from the robotic acting, to the lack of consistent plot, to the music, to the horrifically long sex scenes in which Tommy Wiseau’s ass takes center stage (and I mean literal, full, bare ass).
While The Room wasn’t a hit for the Academy, The Disaster Artist, based on the novel by Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s co-star and best friend, has been the center of some major Oscar buzz.
Starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau and Dave Franco as Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist is a retelling of how The Room came to be. Perhaps the best part of the film is it’s unbelievability; if this story were a work of fiction, we’d say it’s just not realistic storytelling. But Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero are real people, and their stories are far more interesting than any film they could possibly produce.
The Disaster Artist chronicles how the two met in an acting class in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles to pursue their mutual dream of filmmaking. After letdown after letdown, it was Greg Sestero’s idea to simply make their own film; Wiseau agreed, wrote the screenplay for The Room, and bought all the equipment needed to make it. Although the numbers are unclear, The Room is estimated to have cost $6 million in production; in its opening weekend, it grossed $1,800.
How did he fund it? Nobody knows. In fact, nobody really knows anything about Tommy Wiseau at all; his age, place of birth, and net worth are still unknown.
This enigma of a man is brought to life uncannily by James Franco, who committed wholeheartedly to the role. He stayed in character as Tommy at all times, even while directing; he noted in an interview with W Magazine that it was as weird for everyone else as we probably think it was.
“This is probably the only time in my whole career I’ll be directing a movie, and acting in it, playing a guy that’s directing a movie that he’s acting in. It was so much easier to just simplify everything, and be one dude throughout. And I think it helped the vibe on the set. It was like, ‘These actors were playing actors in his movie,’ and to be Tommy, I think, just created an atmosphere.”
James Franco’s commitment pays off. His performance is just as powerful as it is performing, and brings so much insight into the visionary behind The Room; a man who, just like the rest of us, was simply trying to follow his dreams. Tommy Wiseau is painted as complex and indescribable as he is in real life, somewhere between “the most generous man of all time” and “the most arrogant.” Despite Wiseau’s constant refusal of advice or criticism and occasional megalomaniac outbursts, I found myself rooting for him, even though I already knew the ending.
The most satisfying part of The Disaster Artist, and the story in general? The conclusion between its stars. Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero still speak every single day, and Sestero is releasing a movie this year starring Wiseau as a mortician and himself as a homeless man – no further context needed.
In the end, The Disaster Artist is an incredible, true-to-its-source, hilarious film with stars that shine as brightly as the real men who inspired it. Not to mention it really is just…flat out inspiring. Despite knowing that The Room is “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” I found myself inspired to follow my own dreams of someday directing a movie – and, more than that, to dream as big as Tommy Wiseau himself.
Now, when asked if the fact that his film is now seen as a joke (rather than the very serious drama he intended), Tommy Wiseau responds with grace and even with a bit of wisdom.
“…I didn’t realize, to be honest, that I’d created something that people would interact with in this way. But you as an actor cannot criticize the audience, and the audience is having fun. If you have a drama, you can find a comedy. If you have a comedy, you can find the drama.”