Art and the artist are at times so inseparable that the audience can have a hard time distinguishing between the two. In no case is this as valid a claim as it is with Tommy Wiseau, mastermind behig cult classic The Room.
Set in San Francisco, The Room follows a successful banker named Johnny lives with his fiancé Lisa in a townhouse. The actual “room” is never determined — the film was supposedly meant to be a stage performance, where the name certainly makes better sense. A tale of seduction and distrust, The Room takes the audience on a spastic joyride that either leaves them demanding more or their money back.
The best thing about Wiseau’s 2003 movie is its ability to be the most adored of any film among its fans, while at the same time remaining one of the most poorly executed artistic expressions of all time. This is not simply an opinion; Entertainment Weekly has dubbed the film “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” — a sentiment shared by dozens of publications.
Despite a terrible reputation, The Room has become a cult classic with screenings selling out across North America. Attendees treat the event like a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show by dressing up, reading lines verbatim and even yelling “focus!” whenever a scene is, well, out of focus.
There are many things people don’t understand about The Room. The delivery of the script has actors range from being incompetent to disturbingly sociopathic. Take one of Lisa’s lines for example: “I’m going to do what I want to do and that’s it. What do you think I should do?”
Wiseau is aware of the criticisms he’s received for the film and his interviews reflect a certain insecurity in his art.
“They use the language, for example,” Wiseau said of reporters’ critiques. “Some of the reporters, they say, ‘Well people don’t talk like that.’ Well I got news for them; that’s an incorrect statement. I traveled all over the world, you know, and same in America and I noticed people actually talk like that.”
One of the quirks of the film is that everyone is always “busy.” Mark is “really busy,” but appears to just be sitting in a car. Lisa is “really busy,” but then invites another character in for a drink anyways. Wiseau started the conversation by saying that he was “busy” and only had ten minutes for an interview — which led to nearly an hour of conversation.
There may however be more to the ramshackle design of The Room. Some might say that its overuse of certain cinematic cues — like panning shots of the Golden Gate Bridge between almost every scene — make a statement of the stale and overused staples of the movie business.
“People now say, ‘Oh, this is bad, this is good.’ They just don’t understand,” Wiseau said. “This has been done by creation on a certain level. It was a vision; if you don’t have vision, you have no creation.”
Perhaps The Room really is simply a symbolic masterpiece, as yet unrecognized in the cinematic community for the artistic expression that it holds.
During screenings of The Room, the audience is known to throw plastic spoons every time a framed picture of a spoon is onscreen — yes, there are more than a few. Wiseau explained that there is symbolism behind this act.
“What this means is that plastic is not good for us, because they use it to make chemicals. But the kind that [they make now], it doesn’t harm you anymore like it used to,” Wiseau said, going on to speculate that the first object many babies pick up is a spoon. “It’s about life.”
If you’re wondering who exactly Tommy Wiseau is besides the creative spirit of a bad movie, your guess is as good as any. Wiseau is incredibly secretive about his life, choosing to not reveal his country of origin or birth year and denying group statements of the events during the production of the film including the accusations that he never actually had a full script written — hence the reason he only gave actors several pages at a time.
Wiseau even claims in an interview with The Gonzo that Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist, a biographical account of the director written by one of the actors on set, was only 50 per cent true.
According to The Disaster Artist, Wiseau fled Communist Bloc Europe and went through a troubling period of strife and violence, working in a sex shop to save money to move to America. After immigrating, he studied psychology and amassed a considerable fortune by selling toys and clothing under a business called Street Fashions. He then supposedly used his profits to fund his directorial debut The Room.
The ambiguous mystery of Wiseau’s history only adds to the absurdity of his film, which is perhaps why a movie of such poor quality can appear so attractive. Despite its reviews — or perhaps in light of them — this is not a film to be missed.