Media Non-Fiction

Tommy Wiseau: Still Bad

You’re probably reluctant to disown the guy just as things are working out for him.

When writing about Tommy Wiseau, it’s easy to get caught up in how funny, mysterious, and baffling of a figure he is. There’s good reason for that. Even as he’s risen to fame, the public hasn’t figured out where he’s originally from (although he insists he’s American) and why he had the millions of dollars needed to make his own movie (although he says he made it by selling leather jackets). I’d put forward that the name Tommy is exactly the sort of generic American name he’d have picked out for himself while constructing a new identity.

But, let’s not go crystal-ball-gazing here. The facts of the matter, which you can soon purchase in documentary-drama form on Blu-ray, are these: Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, and produced a movie called The Room and it is widely agreed to be quite bad. Its accidental comedy made it a beloved cult classic, then it became even more popular once the internet got better at hosting video. Doug Walker’s mocking but affectionate review on his show Nostalgia Critic helped. Last year, the fascination with Wiseau climaxed in an unexpected way: James Franco of all people directed and starred in a movie about the making of The Room.

The Disaster Artist, based on the book by Wiseau’s co-star Greg Sestero, is quite enjoyable. Where Franco could have played the part like a Saturday Night Live character, he told a story instead. It says a lot for his direction that by the end of the movie, Wiseau seems cuddly. This has carried over to how some people view the real-life Wiseau. Where previously he was viewed as an amusing weirdo, he’s now treated by some as a creative hero, someone who pursued his dreams despite the odds. Even The Room itself has been slightly reappraised; after all, if the movie succeeds in self-expression then does it truly suck? This is all well and good until you mull it over for a little while.

The Disaster Artist also shows Wiseau being a real jerk to his cast and crew. He didn’t pay for air conditioning or a water supply, resulting in one of his co-stars passing out. He bullied Sestero out of auditioning for a part that could have been his big break. Wiseau’s sex scene with the lead actress Juliette Danielle is particularly uncomfortable, with our lovable weirdo screaming at her because she had a mole on her shoulder. The script has to bend over backwards to make clear that it wasn’t technically assault. These are only the parts that made it into the movie; who knows what happened beyond that?

If you grew up with Wiseau as a huge comical figure in the pop cultural landscape, then you’re probably reluctant to turn on a sixpence and disown the guy just as things are working out for him. After all, he went after his dream, right? And he’s a funny guy. But, let’s take a step back from the mannerisms and the spaces in his persona that are left fascinatingly blank. Again, these are the facts: this guy made a garbage movie, treated his cast and crew terribly, and has been massively rewarded for it. Has he been mocked? Of course, but he’s also had a Golden-Globe-winning documentary made about him.

The Disaster Artist might be heart-warming on first viewing but comes off as disingenuous and sometimes downright baffling once you start holding Wiseau accountable to his actions. There’s one scene late in the film where Sestero loses his temper at Wiseau and storms out of the production. It’s unclear whether this really happened or if it was just a movie moment added to make the story flow better – the circumstances of the scene seem outlandish but that shouldn’t be a surprise where Wiseau is involved.

Whether they were asked or not, the questions in that scene ring true: who is Tommy Wiseau anyway? Where did he come from? How old is he? In the movie, Sestero leaves because he feels he has no reason to trust Wiseau. This is what creates the rift in the film’s third act. Sestero’s questions hit home and make for a genuinely interesting way forward into the movie’s final scenes.

But, what happens in the end is that everyone watches the funny-bad movie, they all laugh at it, and Sestero reassures Wiseau that the movie is secretly good because it’s bringing people joy. To be fair, the argument that The Room is accidentally good is interesting and none of the events shown are outright fabricated.
But, when Sestero stormed away a few scenes previous, The Disaster Artist raised serious questions about how good of a person Wiseau is and whether we should like him. The only answer it offers in the end is that Wiseau is a funny, wacky guy and made a funny movie by mistake and that means you should follow your dreams or something. Franco’s love letter to Wiseau literally ends with footage of an applauding audience overlaid with text about how, even now, nobody knows where Wiseau comes from or how old he is. Never mind the actual conflict of the movie we just watched. Hey, remember the plot of The Disaster Artist?

After this mess of a movie came out and told us that Tommy Wiseau is a cuddly teddy bear who might not even scream at you, a lot of people seem to have taken it at face value. It’s a story with pathos now! Most of us were in it for the meme but now we all get to feel like we’re part of a story about friendship and chasing your dreams.

Soon, Wiseau and Sestero will be returning to the silver screen in Best F(r)iends, a movie which seems semi-serious but is being marketed as a sort of successor to The Room even without Wiseau in the director’s chair. It’s being described as a “black comedy,” just like The Room was once Wiseau realised everyone was laughing at his attempt at serious drama. Wiseau has also appeared on the Nerdist website with an audition tape for the Joker. Wiseau seems to be taking it seriously while the Nerdist is happy to frame him as a wacky, loveable weirdo.

The documentary followed by his more frequent appearances makes for an alarming trend: people seem to unironically like Wiseau now. There’s still a layer of irony in play there but it’s quite thin. This is easy enough to understand. He’s weird and funny and he’s the guy who made the best worst movie ever. He’s a major figure in the pop cultural subconscious for millennials. If you’re born after the year 2000, it can seem like Tommy Wiseau has functionally been around forever, like Corn Flakes.

I would gently suggest that Wiseau should not be given any more major acting roles because he is quite bad at acting. I suppose I can’t tell websites like the Nerdist to not have him on as a guest but it does make me uncomfortable.

I can understand why they have him on. It’s not just that he’s funny and he made a bad movie just like how The Room was never just a funny bad movie. He’s fascinating because he’s so strange, and so much of his existence remains unexplained, that he barely seems real. No wonder people were interested to see him as the Joker; nobody knows where he came from, he created chaos, and the world was never the same after. It’s just, y’know, the Joker is the bad guy.

It’s easy to point out how unreal Tommy Wiseau seems. What’s difficult is to treat him as the real person he is and hold him accountable for his actions.

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