This blog was founded on a couple of rules, the two most important of which are that all reviews are supposed to be positive, and that all reviews should not reference other movies (unless they are part of a series). But for every rule there is an exception, and at last we have a movie that will demand the breaking of both of these self-imposed parameters. That movie is the Disaster Artist, an unexpectedly heartfelt and poignant tale about the making of the movie The Room, which is widely heralded as the worst movie ever made.
So yeah, we’ll be talking about both the Room and the Disaster Artist at the same time today. And yeah, we’re going to put it right out there: The Room is not just a bad movie. It is not just a so-bad-it’s-good movie. It is a movie that no discussion of its badness will ever adequately convey its true measure of awfulness. It is a movie that must be seen to be understood, but there is otherwise no reason to see this movie, except to understand why it should never be seen, which is why you should see it and now you are in a moebius death spiral from which there is no escape. You’re welcome.
The Disaster Artist tells the story of Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseeau, two Hollywood hopefuls who possess recklessly hopeful dreams of making it big in Hollywood. Greg is just another handsome fella in a town overflowing with them while Tommy is the strangest dude to ever crash an acting class. He speaks with an indeterminate eastern European accent but claims to be from New Orleans. He kind of looks like some kind of weird vampire cosplaying as a different kind of vampire. And he is loaded, though he won’t say where his money comes from. After Greg and Tommy’s dreams of acting careers crash and burn, Tommy decides they should just make their own movie, and so Tommy charges ahead with zero skill or experience, but a pile of cash to burn. He writes an execrable script for a love triangle drama called The Room, and then proceeds to run the most chaotic, unhinged production anybody who signed on to it has ever seen. The movie just about ruins Greg and Tommy’s friendship, stresses everyone to the breaking point, and is a complete fiasco on its opening night. And then, as they say, things start to get weird.
The Room is one of those epic misfires that would have gone completely unknown if not for a small, dedicated fanbase of Hollywood types who passed around copies of it and nurtured a strange and obsessive love for a movie that commits every single sin there is in filmmaking. Gaping plot holes? Check. Bizarro acting? Check. Sex scenes that make you seriously consider celibacy for life? Check. Out-of-the-blue reveals about breast cancer? Check. Somehow The Room gained midnight movie cult status, became the biggest joke Hollywood ever saw, and is the kind of thing that absolutely anybody who ever loved a movie will eventually slap their knee over because yes, it really is that bad.
What makes the Disaster Artist as good as the Room is bad is that yes, it spends a lot of time acquainting us with the endless oddities of Tommy Wiseau and his rolling train wreck of a movie production. But it never forgets that the people who make these things are humans. They’re not bad people just because they failed at something so spectacularly. They didn’t set out to waste anyone’s time. They are guilty of having a dream and believing in it so fiercely that they will stop at nothing to achieve it, even if that means wasting an astounding amount of money and humiliating themselves before the very people they seek to entertain. And where this movie succeeds so well is not just in the freakishly accurate way in which it recreates both Wiseau himself and the Room, but in making us realize that you know what? Even if The Room really is this terrible, it still deserves our applause. At the very least, it immortalized the line “Oh, hai, Mark.”
In any artistic enterprise, out of everybody who says they want to write/paint/play music/make movies/whatever, only 1 in 100 will actually try it. And of those, only 1 in 100 will actually finish something. Of those, only 1 in 100 will actually share it with somebody. And of those, only 1 in 100 will keep working at it after receiving criticism. Only 1 in 100 will then try to bring it to market. And only 1 in 100 will continue after initial rejection. The idea is that the trick to becoming a creative professional requires talent and skill, but at least as much drive and endurance. No matter how much you might harsh on an objectively bad piece of art, at least its creator had the guts and vision to make it past almost everybody else in the universe. And that should count for something, especially in a world that loves to lines up to punch down.
The Disaster Artist’s moment of truth is when Sestero and Tommy have a moment of truth themselves during the Room’s premiere and decide that maybe it really is better to be laughed at than to be unnoticed. (Or maybe if you insist that people are laughing with you instead of at you, eventually, it will become a little bit true. Either way, it pays to give yourself permission to suck at something when you first try it.) But an extremely close second is the movie’s post-credits scene featuring a Tommy Wiseau cameo that creates an on-screen sense of recursion that would be unbelievable if it weren’t for the fact that truth really is stranger than fiction. The scene reminds us that we are all a little bit like Tommy Wiseau. We just have the sense to ignore it completely. But it’s there, all the same, and we cannot laugh at him without also laughing at ourselves.