The 2003 film The Room was a failure by nearly every conventional measure of filmmaking. It took more than four months to shoot and reportedly cost six million dollars to make, but by the end of the film’s initial run it had earned all of $1,800 in box-office sales and had played in a single Los Angeles-area theater for two weeks. Among its many (many) cinematic sins, multiple plot threads stubbornly refuse to resolve themselves, characters converse like mysterious non-native English speakers, and soft-core sex scenes go on ... and on. Speaking for nearly every review of the film, one commentator quoted in a 2008 Entertainment Weekly article called it “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
But The Room was wildly successful in one important way: putting Tommy Wiseau’s singular, unedited vision out into the world. Wiseau, an inscrutable former clothing salesman with an unplaceable, seemingly European accent, was The Room’s writer, producer, director, financier, and star. The story he wanted to tell was supposed to be simple: a happy-go-lucky stockbroker named Johnny (Wiseau) must navigate romantic complications involving his stay-at-home fiancée, Lisa, and his best friend, Mark. On screen, it became absurd—but it was his absurdity. "Tommy Wiseau doesn't just make some mistakes; he makes every mistake," says Amanda Klein, a professor of film studies at East Carolina University who kicks off her class on “Trash Cinema and Taste” by showing the film. “If he had just made some mistakes it’d just be an average movie, an annoying movie”—not a contender for worst movie ever made.
The Disaster Artist, a new book by Room costar Greg Sestero (Mark) and journalist Tom Bissell, offers more than 250 pages of proof that Wiseau’s solitary vision elevated The Room from just a bad film to one of the most beloved bad films of all time. The book makes it clear that Wiseau’s commitment to the film in his head was unyielding—much to the continual horror of the movie’s cast and crew members, many of whom left the production and had to be replaced. Describing a typical reaction to one of Wiseau’s directorial decisions, Sestero recalls that a crew member’s face “underwent at least five distinct changes of expression: puzzlement, dismay, shock, incredulousness, and finally bleak acceptance.” About the only change made in postproduction was to shave three minutes off one of Johnny’s sex scenes with Lisa.