The Room

The Disaster Artist

08/12/17

Let me begin with a question: is it ever possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? In this analogy, the sow’s ear is Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/12/04/the-room/), a film of such toe-curling ineptitude that it actually hurts to watch it – and a film, moreover, that – since its initial release in 2003 – has somehow recruited a sizable coterie of avid fans, who gather at regular midnight screenings around the world to celebrate its general naffness. The potential silk purse is The Disaster Artist, the film about the making of The Room, in which James Franco plays Wiseau and, in a hubristic gesture that Wiseau would undoubtedly approve of, also directs.

Franco’s film opens in San Francisco in the 90s, where we meet young wannabe actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who is struggling to make some kind of impact on the local theatre scene. At a workshop, he encounters Wiseau, a mysterious long-haired individual who, when invited to improvise in front of the other students, unleashes a ‘performance’ of such unabashed fury, that the more inhibited Sestero immediately wants to know more about him. The two men become buddies and, when Wiseau casually suggests that they should go to Los Angeles and ‘get into the movies,’ Sestero happily goes along – Wiseau already has an apartment there and he’s perfectly happy to share it. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning Mr Wiseau. Where does his seemingly bottomless pit of money come from? Why does a man who claims to be a native of New Orleans have what sounds like a middle European accent? And why is he so willing to go to any lengths to impress Sestero? Will there be a price to pay?

When, after months of fruitless auditions have resulted in exactly zero film or TV roles, Wiseau announces that there is only one option left: he will write a movie script for the two of them to star in – and then he will direct it. Which is pretty much what happens. Wiseau’s complete ignorance of the film-making process means that he ends up spending over six million dollars on his little vanity project and, since he seems reluctant to heed any advice from professionals, the result of all his labours is an incoherent mess but, undeterred, he sets about arranging a premiere…

It would be very easy to make a cruel comedy out of this but, though the film is often laugh-out-loud funny, Franco’s evident affection for Wiseau shines through in every frame. As the director has said in interviews, it takes as much commitment and ingenuity to make a bad film as it does to make a good one and it will be a hard-hearted individual indeed who won’t feel for Wiseau when his beloved project is greeted by hoots of derision from all who see it. Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau is uncannily accurate, as are most of the other performances here. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot some big names in cameo roles: Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Seth Rogan, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams. Oh yes, and there’s Bryan Cranston actually playing himself. Most telling of all is the extended sequence at the end of the film, where scenes from The Room are played alongside their equivalent from The Disaster Artist. They are virtually identical.

So, the million dollar question. Do you need to have seen the original movie in order to enjoy this homage? Well, it may not be an essential requirement, but it certainly helps me to fully appreciate the care and attention that has gone into this project. Mind you, with the new interest in The Room that the film seems certain to generate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a general re-release is waiting in the wings, which I’ve no doubt will be a bonus for Mr Wiseau.

So, returning to my original question, in this case yes. The sow’s ear has become a silk purse – and this is definitely one of the most intriguing films of the year.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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The Room

03/12/17

We are sitting in a packed cinema and large sections of the audience are hurling handfuls of plastic spoons at the screen…

No, it’s not some weird cinema-related nightmare, but a showing of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum hopeless The Room, screening at The Cameo Cinema, because these people know a cult when they see one – and with James Franco’s The Disaster Artist looming on the horizon, there really couldn’t be a more propitious time to do this. Up until a week ago, The Room had managed to completely pass us by, but I knew that my daughter and her beau were longtime fans and, wanting to be able to view Franco’s film with some background knowledge of its inspiration, I asked if we could borrow their precious (signed by Tommy W!) DVD copy. Shortly after viewing it, we heard that The Cameo would be doing a screening and felt we had to go along and experience it with an audience. Perhaps, I thought, we’d missed something first time around…

Some films become a cause celebre because they are brilliant. The Room has earned that accolade because it is, frankly, terrible. From the endlessly repeated shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, to the interminable soft-porn sex scenes (one of them shown twice!), to the fact that Wiseau cannot even seem to walk convincingly, let alone act, write or direct a feature film, this is risible stuff. And it doesn’t matter how often Wiseau claims that it was always meant to be a comedy, it’s quite clear that what he actually thought he was delivering was a deep and powerful meditation on the human condition. Oh dear…

Johnny (Wiseau) is a man who works in a bank. In what capacity, we can only guess, but we do learn that he is frustrated that he has yet to be given the ‘promotion’ he feels he so richly deserves. He is however, endlessly devoted to his girlfriend, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who he is planning to marry in just a couple of weeks. We are led to believe that Lisa has a job, though we never actually see her doing work of any description, unless you count her indolently pushing a broom around the apartment every now and again. Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), is somewhat bemused when Lisa starts trying to seduce him and keeps reminding her that he is Johnny’s best friend, and she is getting married soon and yet, he somehow can’t quite bring himself to resist her advances. Suffice to say that Lisa is depicted as an evil, self-centred banshee, callous enough to risk her relationship for a bit on the side, and even brushing aside her mother’s announcement that she has breast cancer with a glib, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ Johnny is… well, equally unbelievable.… and you know what, it’s really not worth going into any more detail on the plot, which is pretty nonsensical anyway. No character here does or says anything remotely convincing.

Often described as ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies,’ The Room is certainly shoddy enough, but not so enjoyably bad that it actually becomes ‘good.’ I mean, it’s not Plan 9 From Outer Space, for instance, a film that I can watch repeatedly and never tire of – but I will admit that watching Wiseau’s efforts with a crowd of laughing, jeering devotees, certainly helps to lift the mood. I laughed a lot. Having said that, I really don’t feel compelled to watch it again for a very long time.

Which brings me to a conundrum. It is, of course, our practice to awards star ratings to movies and I feel that in the normal run of things, I’d be hard pushed to give this any more than one. Having experienced it in a cinema with a crowd of fans, then okay, I’m prepared to go for two stars, but I really don’t feel good about it – and I have to say that Wiseau is incredibly lucky that his lamentable efforts have been rewarded with a sizable following in his own lifetime, something that Ed Wood, who died an alcoholic pauper, never experienced. And Cameo, if you’re reading this, a showing of Plan 9 From Outer Space strikes me as a really good idea.

Oh, the spoons? Good question. Pay close attention to the framed pictures in Johnny’s apartment and you’ll get the gist.

2 stars

Philip Caveney