It’s bizarre, cringe-worthy, and horribly executed; but is it a bad film? Recently I have struggled with this deep, existential cinephile crisis: is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room a bad film? If it is such a bad film, why do I (and thousands of others) like it so much?
Although slightly late coming to the now-cult-classic, I did arrive much earlier than James Franco’s recent Disaster Artist, which outlines the making of the notorious film. My first viewing was a bootlegged version of the film on a popular media sharing site which will remain nameless. I was alone and found most of the classic scenes humorous (“Oh, hi doggie,” “You’re tearing me apart,” “What a story, Mark”) but couldn’t finish the entire film. The numerous sex scenes were grotesque and the plotline was unresolved and dry. But I was hooked, and the more I discussed the film with others who also enjoyed it the more I was drawn to its unresolved subplots (Denny as drug dealer, the mother’s breast cancer, Mark making some “pretty good money”) and the more I wanted to share the work of art with others. In a group setting we watched the film (still illegal, mind you) and found ourselves laughing out-loud, discussing the hilariously awkward character interaction, and quoting dialogue days after we had seen it. In a sense, The Room became a group bonding activity.
The film, famously, is poorly manufactured; the script and acting are hilariously bad, camera work is slightly above amateurish (although I maintain, it is similar camera work to George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels), and the use of early 2000’s green screen creates some stunningly bad rooftop vistas of San Francisco. But this is part of the appeal. You watch the film in anticipation for your favorite awkward lines of dialogue and unconscionable nonlinear narrative structure.
While viewing the film who doesn’t get a slight chuckle as they see Johnny’s white car pull up to the flower shop, knowing that a mute dog is perched on the checkout counter; and who doesn’t love seeing drunk Lisa with Johnny’s neck tie around her forehead giggling about Johnny’s spectacular pecs? And in the group setting these scenes become much more. They morph into an event, an escape, an interactive adventure. Tossing spoons at the screen each time Johnny’s kitchen décor photos come into frame; throwing footballs across aisles as the film continues to showcase scene after scene of close-quarters football tossing; and asking out-loud, “Who is that,” every time a new character is introduced through Johnny and Lisa’s doorway (there are many who materialize throughout the hour and a half run time).
I’ll admit it, I love The Room; not as a genuinely great film in terms of classic film-making but as the experience to laugh with an audience that appreciates the sardonic, self-reflexive sense of humor that the film eventually embraced. It was the passion of filmmaker Tommy Wiseau that, unfortunately, did not turn out as planned. In retrospect it has become much more; as a drama it would have never seen another theater after its short two-week run in 2003. As a laughable reconsideration of one man’s creative genius, it is just that: genius.
The Room may not be “traditionally” good but it has achieved a cultural status that many other films never have, nor will. It has the unique ability to bring people together to laugh, cheer, temporarily neglect life’s problems, and continue marveling at its strange, quirky uniqueness long after the screen fades to black.
We can probably all agree that is something worth experiencing.