On its surface The Room is a bare-bones American drama about friendship, betrayal, and withering love. In reality it’s a hilarious and menacing insight in to one irreverent, misguided man’s all-encompassing loneliness: Thomas P. Wiseau.
Fans of The Room making the trip to watch upcoming Seth Rogen and James Franco feature The Disaster Artist may expect a comedy-of-errors melodrama powered by Franco’s eerily effective imitation of Wiseau, but Greg Sestero’s grand reminiscence on the making of The Room is much more than just a behind-the-scenes tell-all. The Disaster Artist is a bewildering insight in to the world of an obscenely and mysteriously rich eccentric, and the attractive young Hollywood hopeful whom he takes as his ward.
The Talented Mr. Wiseau
The book on which Franco’s feature is based was written by Greg Sestero, co-star of The Room and Wiseau’s best friend for years before the production. It’s littered with quotes from Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Sestero characterizes the eccentric Wiseau as a Ripley-like figure, desperate to be a part of a world in which he doesn’t belong. Wiseau goes to extreme lengths to crack Hollywood, spending exorbitant amounts of money and time on acting lessons and commutes to Los Angeles.
Finally, after constant rejection, Wiseau spends six million dollars of his own money commissioning and filming his own screenplay. Sestero himself is presented as a Dickie Greenleaf equivalent: attractive and effortlessly successful, ‘Babyface’ (Wiseau’s nickname of choice) represents everything the oddball European wants from life. Eventually Sestero becomes drawn in to Tommy Wiseau’s weird universe, eventually rooming with the latter in his L.A. apartment. The relationship between the hollywood acolyte and his Room co-star strains Sestero’s already-waning relationship with girlfriend Amber to breaking point. Their time together eventually morphs in to a paranoid nightmare, with Wiseau cordoning off large parts of their shared apartment behind heavy black drapes.
When questioned or criticised during the principle photography of The Room Wiseau was intransigent. As director and financier, he made the breathtakingly expensive and unprecedented choice to purchase 35mm and high-definition cameras; when asked about this he simply responds that he’s the same as any big-shot Hollywood studio. Studios in fact regularly rent material, which often becomes obsolete within months.
One of the tragedies of The Room is that everyone except Wiseau knew exactly what they were doing. In the book Sestero claims that script supervisor Sandy Schklair recognised the movie as ‘unintelligible and shot to the core with a curiously un-examined homoeroticism.’ Sestero himself issues this glowing review:
“In terms of emotional coherence and dramatic logic, Tommy’s script may as well have been written in crayon.”
A Room Full of Spoons
Sestero confesses being initially attracted to Wiseau -whom he met at a San Francisco acting class- by of the ‘aura of the possible’ which surrounded him, and the latter’s intractable optimism pervades throughout The Disaster Artist.
Wiseau was involved in to production of The Disaster Artist’s adaptation, helping Franco develop his impression and accepting a contractual bit-part in the production, but he’s demonstrated a mercurial attitude towards it in interviews and press releases, telling the International Business Times that Sestero’s book is “only 40 percent truth”. In Sestero’s book, Wiseau demonstrates a remarkable strength of will, sticking relentlessly to his often unrealistic or misguided choices. His decision-making process baffles his co-stars and colleagues.
Wiseau, however, is by no means predictable. Co-operating with filmmakers Rick Harper, Fernando Forero, and Martin Racicot on Room Full of Spoons, a behind-the-scenes look in to the evolution of The Room, Wiseau was initially positively inclined toward the project. The directors were offered screening tickets and access to the comprehensive catalogue of behind-the-scenes footage accrued by Wiseau during filming, and the film gained $26,000 of crowdfunding support. As of 2016 however, release of Room Full of Spoons has been put on hold due to a court order, and it’s heavily implied that Wiseau is responsible. The man himself took to Youtube to issue a damning three-part condemnation of the film and its directors, accusing them of stealing his work, misrepresenting him, and defrauding investors. He also takes the opportunity to advertise his line of underwear.
The James Dean Connection
Being played by James Franco is somewhat more flattering than being the subject of a semi-ironic documentary, and Wiseau has shown more enthusiasm for the newer project. At the world premiere for The Disaster Artist at South by Southwest (SXSW) Franco described taking on the role of Wiseau in the same terms as his work imitating James Dean – a smart move considering Wiseau’s own obsession with Dean. The infamous ‘You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!’ scene from The Room is a mangled, ersatz rendition of the tragic young actor’s dramatic Rebel Without A Cause performance.
James Dean features heavily in Sestero’s early relationship with Tommy Wiseau, with both men visiting restaurants from Dean’s youth and driving Wiseau’s expensive Mercedes along the roads where Dean met his untimely death. It’s impossible not to see shades of Dean in Wiseau’s performance, however disfigured they may be. Imitation is flattery, and Franco claims to have been Wiseau’s second choice to play him – after Johnny Depp. For a man whose dream is to be a Hollywood legend, there’s little better than having a Hollywood mainstay like Franco play you in a biopic.
Wiseau is still working as an actor and director, teaming up with Sestero for the upcoming Best Friends, as well as a potential James Franco collaboration. Despite this it’s impossible to ignore that the earnest, unironic nature of Wiseau’s efforts are intrinsic to the magic of The Room. Wiseau has defensively suggested in interviews that the insanity of The Room is at least partly by design. If (as most suspect) this is untrue, then the The Disaster Artist is set to be a heartbreaker.