The Disaster Artist: Why The Room Reasonates

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 16 November, 2017

Ahead of the big screen adaption of The Disaster Artist, Shaun Ponsonby explores the cult classic film on which it is based and asks why this particular bomb resonates with audiences.

Once you’ve seen The Room, you don’t forget it.

It is like the videotape from The Ring. It doesn’t literally crawl out of the TV set and possess you, but it might as well. It genuinely has to be seen to be believed.

For the uninitiated, The Room is the world’s most fascinating vanity project; a movie that takes incompetence to a whole new level. It isn’t just so bad that it’s good, it’s so bad that it transcends the art form entirely. Usually a “so bad it’s good” film doesn’t live up to the hype. But as The Room plays, it just finds new, astonishing ways to suck.

Just this week, a judge in Canada deemed the film “too bad to smear” after its creator took out an injunction to stop a documentary being released on the grounds that it “mocks, derides and disparages him“. But this is the very reason the live is so anti-loved.

Imagine the most basic components of film making. Impossible to fuck them up, right? Wrong. Literally every aspect of the movie is delivered excruciatingly poorly, and I say this without fear of contradiction.

But what is the plot?”, I hear you ask in my head.

That is an excellent question, and I’m glad I did an impression of you asking it.

The main plot revolves around Johnny, a successful banker who is due to wed his “future wifeLisa (at no point is she referred to as a fiancé). She is growing bored of life with Johnny and begins an affair with his best friend, Mark (don’t worry, it is made abundantly clear that they are best friends). Johnny finds out, he and Mark fight, Lisa leaves him and it ends with Johnny’s suicide.

This in itself is clear enough, but it’s the multitude of subplots that go nowhere that confuses things.

Denny is a kid that Johnny supports. He buys drugs once and this leads to a confrontation with a dealer on the roof when Denny owes him money. It is never spoken of again.

Lisa’s mother Claudette announces to her “I got the results of the test back, I definitely have breast cancer”. Lisa then continues talking about the surprise party she is organising for Johnny, heavily implying that this news about her mother potentially dying has not impacted her life in the slightest. Claudette’s condition is never mentioned again.

Mike and Michelle are friends of Johnny and Lisa. They occasionally go to the latters’ apartment to bang, where Mike pulls an unusual blowjob face with chocolate in his mouth.  We know nothing about them.

Lisa lies to her mother and accuses Johnny of getting drunk and beating her.  Claudette’s reaction is a stone faced “Johnny doesn’t drink”.

Peter, another friend of the group, is replaced halfway through the movie with a completely different actor, Bela Lugosi style.

The couple’s home is awash of framed pictures of spoons – clearly the placeholder pictures that came with the frames that the set designers couldn’t be arsed changing.

There are three lengthy sex scenes within the first 20 minutes, one of which is the first one re-cut, and during which Johnny appears to be penetrating Lisa’s belly button (naval intercourse isn’t sexy). Before one of them, Denny jumps onto the bed and exclaims, with complete sincerity, “I just like to watch you guys“. Denny is creepy.

The dialogue is incomprehensible. This is a genuine exchange that actually happens in the movie.

Mark: “So, how was work today?
Johnny: “Pretty good. We got new client at bank, we make a lot of money.”
Mark: “What client?”
Johnny: “I cannot tell you, it is confidential.”
Mark: “Oh, come on.”
Johnny:  “No, I can’t. Anyway, how’s your sex life?”

This is, incidentally, merely the tip of the iceberg. Just when you think the film has reached its absolute least intelligible – nope, it can get worse. But its badness is almost a work of art in itself.

Actually, in some ways The Room parallels the New Testament. Like Jesus, Johnny is betrayed. Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a whore, Lisa…likewise. The Bible has the last supper, The Room has Johnny‘s birthday party. Jesus turns water into wine, Johnny turns scotch into scotchka (by adding vodka). The protagonists in both texts have names that begin with “J”. The similarities are endless.

The cult of The Room stems from its screenings. The audiences heckle the movie, repeat lines, and best of all throw plastic spoons at the screens (when the time comes, you’ll know). The best way to describe it would be like a sarcastic Rocky Horror Show.

Tommy Wiseau was born…well, nobody quite knows where he was born. He claims to be American, but his accent sounds like Jean Claude Van Damme doing an impression of Christopher Walken, which probably accounts for the bad dialogue. Since it became such a phenomenon for being terrible, Wiseau has backtracked on his heavy romantic drama, re-branding it as a black comedy.

He wrote, directed, produced and starred in the movie as central character Johnny.  He raised the $6 million to finance the film himself, and won’t reveal how he did it.

His co-star in the movie, Greg Sestaro, wrote a behind the scenes book called The Disaster Artist a couple of years ago, and it has just been adapted into a major Hollywood picture starring the Franco brothers and Seth Rogen, not to mention Zac Efron, Bryan Cranston and Sharon Stone. A-list stars that could result in Wiseau finally being invited to the Oscars (he did submit The Room to the Academy).

The Room has been a fascination for so long, and I am not exactly a fan of the Francos, so have been somewhat sceptical about their ability to transform this bizarre story to the big screen. However the trailer and early reviews have filled me with promise.

It feels like it could be similar to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood – his tribute to the much maligned B-movie director, famed for his 1958 non-blockbuster Plan 9 From Outer Space, which has often been named as the worst movie ever made.

But are films like The Room and Plan 9 From Outer Space really the worst movies ever made? Surely they are too entertaining for that? They are low budget, not made by big studios or feature big stars. They are made by people whose worst crime is the passion for what they do. That they are short on talent is a side issue. Personally, the likes of Highlander II and Howard The Duck are much more serious offenders.

So what these films might really speak to, aside from the sarcastic side of us, is our love for the underdog. They may be incompetent, but through sheer passion, they got made. I have never been passionate enough about a project as difficult to make as films to see them through to completion. They gained infamy and the people behind them practically became household names.

Tommy Wiseau achieved his goal. He is famous. He travels the world showing The Room, sells merchandise, meets his fans and now he’s hob nobbing with Hollywood A-listers .

In a strange way, it’s a story of great hope.

The Disaster Artist is released on 8th December, with a preview screening for Fact members on 23rd November.