Some movies are so bad people love them even though they shouldn't.
We're not talking about guilty pleasures here. Who cares if you like “Armageddon” or wish there'd been more “Smokey and the Bandit” movies?
No, we're talking about the worst of the worst — movies that somehow got written, cast, produced, filmed and distributed even though they deserved a mercy killing. We're talking about films that make “Sharknado” seem like “Casablanca.”
In particular, we're talking about “The Room” (2003), a cult favorite, described by Entertainment Weekly as “the ‘Citizen Kane' of bad movies.”
How bad is it? You should watch it and find out for yourself. Then you should read actor Greg Sestero's tell-all memoir, “The Disaster Artist,” to find out how and why everything about the movie went so wrong.
The hilarious and surprisingly touching book — co-authored by Tom Bissell — tells two intertwined stories separated in time. The first is the unlikely friendship that developed between Sestero and eccentric millionaire Tommy Wiseau; the second is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film that resulted from their friendship.
“Ever since I made this movie and started getting seen by people, I've been asked why,” Sestero said in a phone interview. “What was its purpose? Why were you in it? What were your intentions? I felt as if I had to take ownership and explain the story behind it.”
Sestero and Wiseau met at a San Francisco acting class about 15 years ago. Sestero was 19 and handsome, a runway model who hoped to transition into films. Wiseau, mysterious and unique, was determined to be the next Marlon Brando, even though he was, by all measures, a terrible actor.
“It was kind of weird,” Sestero said. “But I was trying to pursue this, and it felt as if Tommy was the only other person on this life raft with me out in the middle of the ocean.”
Wiseau nurtured Sestero's budding career but grew ever more mysterious, claiming to be a vampire and refusing to talk about his past while giving vague explanations for his seemingly bottomless well of money.
Wiseau fretted over his stalled ambitions. No one called him about TV or movie roles. No agents wanted to work with him.
So Wiseau decided to make his own movie. He wrote, directed, produced and starred in “The Room.”
The production suffered an abundance of problems. Cast members and crew were hired and fired seemingly at random. Wiseau consistently arrived on set hours late, blaming his tardiness on meetings with nonexistent producers. He refused to let anyone see the entire script except Sestero, who was certain there would never be a finished film.
He had good reason to think that. The plot didn't make sense. The dialogue was stilted and perplexing. Wiseau, the male lead, had an impenetrable accent, laughed at inappropriate moments and could not remember his lines, even though he'd written them.
The other male characters were unstable and strange, most notable for awkwardly and repeatedly tossing around footballs in narrow alleys or on rooftops. The female characters were bossy, treacherous and oddly nonchalant about sexual affairs and impending death. Continuity problems abounded.
Worst of all, every human interaction rang false, as if the scenes had been written by someone who had lived an entire life in complete isolation, trying to imagine emotion without ever experiencing it. Even the moments of high drama were hollow.
“Everyone was confused,” Sestero said. “The dialogue was unsayable. Everyone just looked as if they were trying to survive the movie.”
The production plodded on, frustration growing, until one day, to everyone's surprise, it was finished. The ordeal was over.
“The Room” debuted in 2003. It cost $6 million to make and distribute, and it earned only $1,800 in its initial two-week run. Wiseau kept it afloat by paying movie theaters to screen the film at a loss.
Then something changed. People who'd risked watching it once returned, bringing friends. Those friends brought their friends, and before long watching it became the cool thing to do.
“Most of the best movies involve some sort of intense life experience,” Sestero said. “I think that's what people are responding to when they see it. It's obviously incompetent, but there's something earnest and sincere about it. ... It's difficult to watch, and yet it's heartfelt at the same time.”
After all this time, the movie continues to play in theaters worldwide, kept alive by legions of cult movie buffs who dress up as their favorite characters, recite dialogue and hurl items at the screen. The little film that did everything wrong hasn't earned as much as Hollywood blockbusters, but it has outlasted them.
“Tommy has read parts of the book,” Sestero said. “He's been supportive. I think there are aspects he differs with, whether it's the greatest bad movie or in his opinion just the greatest movie ever filmed.
“I think the movie is great for different reasons. It's undeniably entertaining. It has screened for 10 years; there are a lot of movies that never get screened for a month. It's just a very strange success story.”
And “The Disaster Artist” is a strange but funny read.