Big Smile, No Teeth: When it's so bad, it's good


  • Movies
  • Sunday, 08 Apr 2018

The poster for The Disaster Artist. James Franco (right) won a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the hapless Tommy Wiseau. Photo: Warner Bros

To be globally recognised for what you do, you have to be good at it.

Or extremely awful.

In fact, gaining worldwide recognition for being horrible at something is probably harder than getting props for being good. And this brings me to Tommy Wiseau, the actor/writer/director/producer of the infamously best worst movie ever made: The Room (2003).

A movie so cringeworthy that it became entertainment fodder for midnight screenings and drunken film fans all around the world. A movie so awful that it inspired an Oscar-calibre film, The Disaster Artist, which focuses solely on Wiseau and the making of The Room.

It’s a film that really has to be seen to be believed.

The plot is some sort of love triangle with an opening 20 minutes that feature no less than three sex scenes that manage to be the least sexy thing ever. For some reason the entire film is shot on a soundstage where the not-so-exotic sets of an apartment and a rooftop were recreated. And the acting is pretty hammy with Wiseau himself leading the charge.

The Room was the basis for the critically lauded The Disaster Artist
The poster for The Disaster Artist. James Franco (right) won a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the hapless Tommy Wiseau. Photo: Warner Bros

And that’s what really sets The Room apart from the other horrible films out there.

It’s Wiseau. He was the perfect storm of conditions to make the best worst movie possible.

First, he apparently funded the entire film himself at a reported cost of US$6mil (RM23mil at today’s rates).

That’s pretty key.

The script is amateurish to say the least and has the earmarks of being someone’s first shot at writing one. But without unlimited money, the writer would have had the script rejected and would have had to go away and learn how to write a better one. That didn’t happen because Wiseau had enough cash to simply throw money into producing the film with his stinker of a script.

The same goes with the filmmaking. Wiseau directed the project, despite not having any directing experience or schooling in moviemaking, something that, again, would never have happened if someone else was funding the effort. The only way you can go into directing a film after taking a few acting classes is – you guessed it – if you’re the one funding your own movie.

Wiseau’s seemingly bottomless bank account set the stage for the making of The Room. And where did Wiseau get US$6mil to just throw at a passion project? No one knows. Which brings up the whole Tommy Wiseau mystery.

Wiseau has a pretty thick, what I would call, Eastern European accent, often speaking in somewhat broken English, though he insists he’s American through and through. Right down to calling himself Tommy, which, after realising the character he wrote for himself in The Room is an all-American guy named Johnny, just makes me think that, for Wiseau, there’s nothing more American than someone whose name ends in a “y”.

No one knows where Wiseau is from. How he made his money. Or even how old he is. Though with his long, curly locks reminiscent of glam rock bands, I’d surmise he grew up in the 1980s, the decade of poofy hair.

The enigma of Tommy Wiseau is important because it’s Wiseau that elevates The Room from a horrible to movie to a horrible movie that is still fun to watch.

We may not know much about Wiseau’s past, but after watching The Room we definitely know his acting isn’t about subtlety. He screams, laughs, guffaws, thrusts his hips at his onscreen girlfriend’s belly button, all with reckless disregard to “less is more”. For Wiseau, if he has to get angry, he’s going to get 15/10 angry ASAP.

His performance is so bad that’s it’s mesmerising on some weird level. It’s like he has some kind of anti-charisma and your eyes are just drawn to him and you’re begging for him to deliver his next line, but only because he’s monumentally, uniquely, bad.

In the scenes without him, The Room becomes simply an amateur film. Dully shot, poorly acted, with nothing to stand out except the mundanity of its ineptness. But with Wiseau, it becomes something else entirely.

With The Room, Wiseau joins previous worst filmmakers ever Ed Wood, who made hilariously cheesy Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Ewe Boll, who was infamous for making straight to video (remember those) crappers, and who famously challenged a critic to a boxing match (which he trained hard for before going on to beat the tar out of the critic).

The point here is there have been many great directors and incredible films people can name, but when it comes to the bad ones Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is on a short list.

And that counts for something. Doesn’t it?

Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at star2@thestar.com.my.

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