Most bad movies tend to be self aware; they’re conscious of their shortcomings. Plenty of B-grade films will be deliberately over the top for effect, because they know that quality doesn’t always sell. The majority of generic Hollywood blockbusters know perfectly well they won’t be winning any awards come Oscar-season.
The Room stands as being somewhat unique in this regard. Directed, produced, written by and starring the eccentric, long-haired Tommy Wiseau, it was crafted with the intention of being a genuinely serious drama. A psychological exploration of the downfall of Wiseau’s central character, Johnny, it follows him as he realises his best friend Mark is having an affair with his fiancée Lisa, or ‘future wife,’ as she is often referred to as throughout the film.
Explaining the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies’ is a seemingly endless task. Its demands for you to take it seriously seem ridiculous by the time the credits roll; it instead emerges a sort of surreal comedy in which dramatic plot points are brought up and then ignored for the rest of the film. A menacing drug dealer shows up with a gun, threatens to kill someone and then disappears. Lisa’s mother Claudette announces she definitely has breast cancer – yet this plays no role in the rest of the movie. Mark threatens to throw psychologist Peter off a roof; it takes a brief apology for the pair to become friends again.
The screenplay reads as if it has been written by someone who has only seen people talk once or twice and doesn’t understand basic human interaction. Every scene, it seems, is filled with incomprehensible dialogue or bizarre directorial choices. In one of the more absurd moments, Johnny and his friends play basketball on the street, inexplicably wearing tuxedos. Extended sex sequences linger on for far longer than they need to as R&B music plays in the background. The film’s dramatic conclusion includes a character named Steven who is as of yet not known to the viewer, mainly because another one of the actors dropped out during filming.
That so many aspects of are so awful is what makes the film’s cult appeal enduring. Every scene seems to contain something which draws the viewer in despite the movie’s appalling quality. Watching it with friends who haven’t seen it is always an entertaining experience, as you get to see their attitudes to the film change throughout. If they have no prior knowledge of The Room, they initially won’t understand what they’ve let themselves in for. The prolonged sex scenes, after all, aren’t exactly easy to endure, and certainly exclude it from being the type of film you view at a family gathering. Before long however, this initial confusion transforms into intrigue. Even casual film viewers understand they’re watching something which is unanimously perceived as bad cinema, but by the time the film reaches its dramatic climax, the sceptics are entranced, even if not in the way the film intends.
Every scene seems to contain a story of its own once you delve into the tumultuous process behind the movie’s making. What’s interesting is that none of the context of its legacy was intentional – Wiseau wrote Johnny and Mark’s story with the intention of creating a modern version of A Streetcar Named Desire. In one scene, Johnny proclaims to Lisa that she is “tearing him apart!” The line, comically overacted and immensely melodramatic, is actually lifted from James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause. Again, Wiseau’s cinematic influences become evident. This is someone who, for all his faults, entered the movie-making process with a genuine love of film, with a genuine desire to make a masterpiece.
Aside from his visions of grand delusion, what contributes to Wiseau’s infamy is that much surrounding him remains surprisingly unknown in spite of his increasing fame in recent years. Both his age and where he originally comes from remain a mystery. The Room allegedly cost millions to make; exactly where an aspiring actor and director like Wiseau found this money from continues to elude us.
Initially, the film flopped, failing to even pull in $2000 in its first two weeks, however its popularity eventually began to spread, becoming a hit as baffled viewers became obsessed with its uniquely bad quality. Years later, Greg Sestero, who plays Mark and was a friend of Wiseau’s beforehand, released a book offering a personal insight into the film’s production. The book in turn inspired last year’s Golden Globe winning film , The Disaster Artist, which featured Hollywood star James Franco depicting Wiseau himself.
Tommy Wiseau, like his influences before him, wanted to be a star and to make a movie so memorable people would find themselves instinctively drawn back to it. In the end, he succeeded, even if it wasn’t quite in the way he originally envisaged; The Room is many things, but one thing it’s not is boring.
Independent Glasgow cinema Burnt Church Film Club host lots of cult film screenings throughout the year. They play host to their first ever returning guest, Greg Sestero himself, on Thursday 25th October. Additionally, they’re screening a double bill of The Room and The Disaster Artist on Sunday 23rd December.
By Justin Bowie