Accidental Joy

In 2001, an actor named Tommy Wiseau, frustrated at his lack of success in Los Angeles decided to write his own play and, failing to get it published, adapted it into a film script. The resulting film, The Room, was produced, directed and starred Wiseau, along with his friend Greg Sistero, and was released in 2003 – in only one cinema.
The poster – not giving much away

Measured by general standards the film is a total disaster. It is so spectacularly bad Wiseau could not get a distribution deal. Instead, he rented a single billboard in Hollywood to promote the film including a striking and unnerving close up image of his face and a phone number.

Mildly threatening

My only knowledge of the movie was that the wonderful Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square held monthly screenings and permanently displayed the menacing image of Wiseau next to their own billboard above the entrance. The image never appealed to me and assumed it was probably some niche artsy horror film I was probably better off avoiding.

Attending a screening of Wayne’s World (Party On) at the Prince Charles with friends at the end of last year I saw the massive long snaking queue to get into the screening of The Room which happened to be the same day. One of my friends asked me if I’d actually seen it, and recommended it as ‘the best, bad film ever’. Slightly confused, I mentioned that The Disaster Artist was then due for imminent release. Directed by and starring
James Franco, this film chronicled the making of the room as based on Sistero’s memoir of the journey.
Greg Sistero

Why an actor as popular as Franco would be making a movie about the making of a little known and terrible film was intriguing and I had to know more. Fast forward to now and the same friends and I were booked in for The Disaster Artist at the Prince Charles, but I was yet to experience The Room; which I finally did with my mate and her housemates. The commentary and banter flying around the lounge was almost as hilarious as the movie.

As a film school graduate, I can get quite frustrated at films that are ‘below-par’ shall we say. Glaring plot holes, shoddy script, poor delivery and bad editing can frustrate me to the point of physical agitation. This is what makes Wiseau a magician. While the film was intended to be a drama, it is so profoundly bad in every way it becomes laughable. Literally. It was uncomfortable viewing through the first half an hour, but by the end of the 99 minutes I was guffawing and clapping like a happy seal. It is now one of my favourites and I can understand how it has achieved cult status despite being even worse than some of the stuff I made in college.
Wiseau in The Room

The plot is paper thin – a clichéd story of betrayal suspected to be lifted from Wiseau’s own experience – the acting is poor, the camera work is sloppy, the lighting is awful and altogether the whole thing makes little sense. Unexplained characters popping up all over the place, the constant football tossing with baffling unnecessary sequences and dialogue forced together into a messy movie that culminates in a tragic ending that unintentionally has the audience cheering. I couldn’t wait to see Franco’s film the following day. 

Sistero played by Dave Franco and Wiseau by James Franco

The Disaster Artist is an absolute triumph. I can’t be more enthusiastic about it. It is a fair but also loving portrayal of an eccentric and intensely private man on his quest to fulfil a dream which can only be admired. In reality as in the film Wiseau reveals little about himself. His strange European accent alludes to him not hailing from Louisiana (originally) as he claims, he still refuses to reveal his age (honestly) or how he managed to fund his production estimated to be in excess of six million Dollars.

Franco’s own portrayal of Wiseau is well considered and carefully executed.  Wiseau’s oddities make him seem a living caricature but Franco maintains a sincerity that balances out the traits which make you laugh out loud.  I could watch it repeatedly and glean something new from each viewing. While it’s not essential to watch The Room before the Disaster Artist I do recommend it; there are small references throughout which enhanced my enjoyment. What is most wonderful is Franco’s film is advertising Wiseau’s, opening it up to a wider audience. A sharing of the accidental joy.

Lucky for us here in London, Tommy and Greg regularly travel out to attend screenings at the Prince Charles and I’m hoping to catch them on the upcoming February trip to meet them and, as tradition dictates, throw plastic cutlery at the screen.

The Room is available on DVD and I’ll certainly be getting my copy, along with Greg’s book.
The Disaster Artist is out now on general release and is worth going to see in the cinema.