June 12, 2013
The Room has gained fame over the past few years as perhaps the worst movie of all time. People get off on quoting choice bits of bad dialogue. They mock its appalling moments. They really can’t quite get over how awful this movie is.
It is now impossible to approach the movie without this context. (And to be fair, without the legend, if I was somehow watching this movie alone by chance, I would have turned it off after ten minutes. If I got that far.) But I wonder if the context has been unfair to the movie itself.
Having achieved cult or midnight movie status, at screenings a strange breed of person will go along regularly, throw plastic spoons and scream responses at the screen. This was how I saw it, and would kind of recommend doing it that way, just as an experience. It is not like the movie is going to be detracted from, or that it would compel being taken seriously on its own terms, and a lot of the fun in my experience was in the stuff being yelled at the film rather than the film.
The Room is written, directed by, and stars Tommy Wiseau. While it is thus a deeply personal work, throughout The Room is comically inept, bizarrely naïve and completely un-self-aware. It is consistently dreadful, lacking in any rudiments of good acting or dialogue, any sense of how a narrative or scene might work, and, often, any sense of how reality might work. It is genuinely baffling that anyone could make something this goofy without the awareness of how completely it was failing, yet there is no question that it is a genuine effort, and therein lies its charm.
(From here we enter SPOILER terrain.)
The essence of the story is Johnny, played by Wiseau, is a genuinely good and lovely guy. He is great to his girlfriend, his friends, and has even adopted a weird kid whose way he is paying through school and life. He is an innocent without sin. In the lead up to what would be their wedding, his somewhat erratic girlfriend begins an affair with his best friend, and chooses to leave him for the best friend. Their intimate betrayal drives Johnny to kill himself – a weirdly shocking moment in the hilarity of the meta-viewing. I really didn’t expect it, especially not after laughing so much.
What gets me is this: Wiseau, however ineptly, is expressing a genuine pain. An authentic anguished cry of a good guy being tormented by the world and driven to death. It is not a good piece of art in the sense of craft, but it does communicate this in its own way. And it feels deeply incongruous to celebrate a story such as this in this fashion, in much the same way it is considered rude to laugh at a mentally handicapped person.
I find I am left disliking the way people seem to get into shitting on it. Partly this mocking and dissecting is just what is done nowadays. We must have an opinion on media. This is almost the main pastime of the privileged first world. (I realise that is what I am doing now.) And boy can one unleash an opinion on this turkey – perhaps no movie, scene by scene, provides as many opportunities for comment. What I question is the motive.
My sense is the audience is mocking it, kind of affectionately, but without respect. Sure, everyone who has grown up watching movies could probably make a technically better movie, but could we make one as genuine, as naked, as unselfconscious? In the era of a Hollywood without a soul but for the dollar, blandly agreeing everything is “awesome”, that genuine artistic expression – however failed – is increasingly rare.
While he failed in almost every way (though hey, he did make the movie, and it is now certainly a financial success), Wiseau made a movie that meant something to him, that (presumably) corresponds to his vision, and communicates something heartfelt.
Film is a very compromised media, and within it I am attracted to uncompromised works. (I also seem to be moved to write deep reviews of bad movies (Sucker Punch, Transformers 2), maybe because interesting failures teach us more.)
That said, I currently do not feel any urge to watch The Room ever again. It is so bad it hurts.
Part of my reading of The Room is informed by watching Eraserhead on the big screen soon afterwards, quite a stunning experience. Eraserhead is deeply extraordinary, a highly effective psychological horror movie of often unbearable intensities. This is the very other end of the spectrum from The Room – Eraserhead is David Lynch’s expression of emotional anguish, armed with all the technical mastery and artistic vision Wiseau lacks.