Let's get one thing straight here, I adore The Room. I must have heard about it before I first saw it, not being from California where the mysterious billboard and limited theater release first happened but now it has become something of a rather strange obsession and for me, that is somewhat troubling and now The Disaster Artist is soon to be released, the laughter is becoming a little more uncomfortable. In short, is it okay to laugh at this anymore?
For those of you not in the know, The Room is a 2003 independent film that was written, produced, directed and starred the enigmatic figure of Tommy Wiseau, a man who is very secretive about his past and previous fortunes who had dreams of becoming a big-shot actor and director. Upon completion of the project, the film was promoted almost exclusively through a single billboard in Hollywood featuring an image Wiseau refers to as "Evil Man": an extreme close-up of his own face with one eye in mid-blink that seemingly has little to do with the movie. Located on Highland Avenue just north of Fountain leaving it to become a mysterious reference to a film that, otherwise, no one had ever heard of and Wiseau decided to keep the billboard in place for 5 years after the release of the picture, making it somewhat of a minor tourist attraction. Stories behind the making of the film and the casting process are also equally bizarre and all lent to an air of real intrigue around the movie.
Upon its release, it was critically panned and a number of publications have labeled it as one of the worst films ever made. The acting was poor and seemed amateur, the narrative was filled with absurd and often unresolved sub plots and there were serious inconsistencies and continuity errors but this all led to it becoming a cult-hit that first swept through American film colleges and then started to gain a wider audience. It now, even has an international following, something I can attest to as it managed to make its way to British shores where I managed to hear about it and seek it out.
I have something of a penchant for bad films. I was never a film student but I did study 'writing for screen' at university and there is a perverse joy in watching a storyline play out that doesn't even follow the basic tenants of how to cobble together a script (which is, admittedly, about all I could do). A film buff friend and I share this strange affection for watching abysmal filmmaking and when I first introduced him to the flawed delights of The Room it became a childish obsession for both of us as we became enthralled by the clunky and repetitive dialogue, the needless characters, and the storytelling dead ends.
Now, some 14 years after the release of The Room, major Hollywood players have come together to make a movie about the making of this movie and, in a delicious twist of irony, it is already receiving some Oscar buzz. As life imitates art, this film also has one man as the main driving force behind it as James Franco is a producer and actor in the film that he is also directing and such is the fervor around the film that massive stars have lined themselves up to grab a cameo appearance in it. Titled after a book written by a friend of Tommy Wiseau and actor in The Room, Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist could well become a bonafide worldwide super hit, something the real Tommy Wiseau could only dream of for his low budget indie flick, now the subject of this Hollywood blockbuster. Undoubtedly I will be going to see The Disaster Artist and, if I get my way, my friend and I will most likely be sitting in a movie theater on opening night with pre-booked tickets hoping desperately that this take on the cult creation lives up to the hype but recently I've been wondering about where I find the humor in all of this and I'm not necessarily comfortable with the conclusions I'm drawing.
The Room is bad, objectively bad. Poorly made, poorly thought out but magnificently executed it has now managed to permeate its way into pop-culture by being so awful. It is the Citizen Kane of bad films so why would anyone want to watch it? There's something cruel in laughing at something someone has created and crafted and poured their heart and soul into, it's reveling in the failure of someone else and there is a sense of mean spiritedness around it. Sure, you point at the fact that Wiseau is now making serious money from this creative mishap as he markets it to sell DVDs and stage screenings to his financial profit but he now refers to the film as a 'dark comedy' when it clearly is intended as a romantic drama. The fact that he is now pulling back from the joke and saying that he was in on it the whole time (although it is blatantly obvious this was not the case) is little short of heartbreaking in the that he is still trying to save some face over this episode of his life. It shows that the joke is, and has always been, on him not with him.
The Franco fronted piece is now further thrusting this failed artistic endeavour into the limelight with Wiseau appearing to be the butt of the joke once again (although, I admit I only have the trailers to go on at this stage) and although launch events have included Tommy and accounts suggest that he was consulted throughout the process of making The Disaster Artist, it still seems a little as though the man is being paraded about as the epitome of failure or, at the least, inadvertent success through failure and it is just a little uncomfortable. Sure, Wiseau laughs and jokes along and says he "99.9 likes the film" but it is that niggling 0.1% that suggest that maybe, just maybe he doesn't want to be made fun of. Maybe it wasn't worth the millions of dollars that have now come his way.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a full supporter of the fact that if you can own your failures then do it. Run head first into it and proudly proclaim that you were wrong but most people then get the chance to move on from this, to get a second shot at whatever they want to do. For Tommy Wiseau though, it seems as though he will forever be 'the guy who made the worst movie ever' and I'm not sure if I'm okay with contributing to that. Laughing at a misjudgment is nothing new and the concept itself isn't uncomfortable, I never laughed in Tommy Wiseau's face and if I find his film inadvertently funny then I don't particularly see a problem with that but to now bring him to the forefront of it all and say "Look, those people are laughing at you" seems unnecessary, even if he doesn't realize this is what is happening. I will probably be watching The Disaster Artist when it is released and I hope to be laughing along, but I expect that will raise some dark questions about myself that will need answering sooner rather than later. Perhaps the fact that this film has been made at all should force us all to ask some questions of ourselves. Maybe, maybe not, we will have to wait and see.
You can watch the trailer for The Disaster Artist by clicking here. Will you be going to see the film or giving it a miss, if so why? Let us know in the comments below.