Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 44 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 5; Sex 4/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
The wise have eyes in their head,
but fools walk in darkness.
The familiar pursuit of the artistic dream is given the kind of twist that we haven’t seen since Ed Wood or Florence Foster Jenkins. Those interested in films that go behind the scenes of film making will enjoy but scarcely believe this black comedy is a true story—but they only need to go to IMDB.com to confirm that there really is a film called The Room made by a Tommy Wiseau. In the site’s Metacritic section it received a score of 9 out of a possible score of 100. Whether or not it deserves such a low rating, you can judge for yourself after seeing the hilariously bizarre story of how it was made.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is at an acting class in San Francisco when he is bowled over by the no-holds-barred performance of Stanley Kowalski by fellow student Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The actor shouts and runs around the stage contorting his body, students and teacher shocked by what they are witnessing. After class Greg introduces himself to Tommy, confessing that he lacks the confidence he just witnessed and hopes to gain. They make a pact to support one another always, a pact that later on will prove difficult to keep.
Tommy’s sunglasses, long black hair, and accent suggesting an East European origin, set him off from the other students almost as much as his go for broke acting style. Even more surprising to Greg is the new friend’s wealth, enough for him to maintain a residence in Los Angeles as well as in San Francisco. The two decide to move south in their quest for careers in the film industry. Greg’s good looks quickly earn him an agent, but no work. When theater people tell Tommy that he’d make a good movie villain with his heavy accent, dramatic face and “malevolent presence,” he rejects their advice, “I hero, you all villain.… Yeah, you laugh at the hero. That what villain do.” Week follows week, but neither of the friends seems any closer to fulfilling his dream, although Greg does acquire a girlfriend who is resented by Tommy.
Then comes the inspiration to make their own film. Tommy has the funds, and soon they have a crew—the owner of the equipment is somewhat surprised that Tommy’s check does not bounce. (We never learn the mysterious source of the would-be actor’s wealth.) Tommy writes a script featuring himself and Greg and several others. What happens on the movie set will keep you laughing and wondering, “Can this really be true?” One example is that a simple scene in which Tommy has just a couple of lines requires almost SEVENTY takes.
When at last the film is premiered at a theater hired for the occasion, your laughter might be tinged with a measure of discomfort. Should we be laughing with or at Tommy? Is he smart enough to know that the popularity of his film is due to his making it so bad that hip audiences are amused enough to watch it again and again to call out the dumb lines that they have memorized? Does he believe that this was his intention to begin with?
If you were amused by Ed Wood, you probably will enjoy this film—though I hope with a tinge of discomfort. Or maybe not, but in my study of comedy and humor I have always appreciated the separation of “good” humor in which we laugh with a character as opposed to the “bad” type in which we laugh at a person. We certainly are laughing at Tommy Wiseau in this film, prompting Shakespeare’s line “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
An issue outside the film is raised by #MeToo campaign. With the recent sexual misconduct charges made against star and director James Franco, you now face the decision of whether or not to avoid supporting such a person’s work.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the February issue of Visual Parables.