Can we justify laughing at a film as bad as The Room?

Megan Harding 8 November 2017

For as little as $19.99, you can have posted to your door a Blu-Ray copy of one of the worst films ever made, plus a pair of limited edition boxer shorts designed by the film’s director, producer, writer and star Tommy Wiseau. The underpants come in many styles and colours, and the film is The Room. If you didn’t know already, The Room is terrible. The kind of terrible that is difficult to understand without seeing it for yourself. The Room is, if nothing else, an experience. If the worst sin a film can commit is to be boring, The Room is far from being one of the worst films ever made.

That is not to say that it’s good, or even that it doesn’t have a few scenes which drag on too long. In many ways, outside of the famous catchphrases – ‘Oh hi Mark!’; ‘Anyway, how’s your sex life?’ – the most baffling thing about The Room is how much it repeats the same scenes and story over and over again. Edited down, the underdeveloped plot probably wouldn’t cover thirty minutes. Johnny (played by Wiseau) is some sort of banker-person, with good job prospects, long, dark hair, and great abs. He also has lots of friends who all love him unconditionally and constantly tell each other how selfless and altruistic he is when he’s not around. The best of these friends is Mark (played by Wiseau’s real-life best friend Greg Sestero), whose great looks and fiery red beard attract the attentions of Lisa, Johnny’s deceptive fiancé. Thus begins a cinematic odyssey of awkward stilted dialogue, uncomfortable sex scenes and overacting. It’s funny, that’s the weird thing – most of the film is a waste of time, but, as a viewer, you’re choosing to watch a critically derided movie, so who really cares? You’re the one eating Cheerios at 2:00 in the morning watching The Room for the third time, so who’s the one wasting time?

There are so many bizarre things about The Room that picking them all out is like trying to diffuse a bomb with hundreds of red wires. Within the first twenty-five minutes there are three sex scenes, the third of which is just recycled material from the first (the actress felt uncomfortable about filming another). Tommy Wiseau seems to put everything in his knowledge about intimacy into these scenes – rose petals, scented candles, white satin sheets, all scored by generic R&B music from the mid-2000s. This extends to the way he writes women, too: with the depth and understanding of a teenage boy who’s been stood up by his prom date. Lisa is nothing but selfish and manipulative, while most conversations end in her saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it’, just as the characters start to near a resolution. There’s even a bit where, when Lisa’s mother tells her she has breast cancer, Lisa brushes it off and proceeds to talk about her own problems some more. Every single interaction is like that, where the important information is forgotten about in favour of some stiff catchphrase – ‘Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!’, or ideas and plotlines are set up which never go anywhere, which works towards the film’s comedic, if not dramatic, benefit.

This of course brings up an interesting conversation, especially with the December release of new James Franco movie, The Disaster Artist, based on Greg Sestero’s experience of making The Room: is it okay to make fun of the work others have likely poured their heart and soul into? The Room may be bad, but does Wiseau deserve to be mocked on the world stage for it? Writing this article makes me guilty of it. Professional critics are guilty of it. They can write the kind of scathing reviews that only serve as entertainment for their audience and offer no constructive pointers, as Roger Ebert did when he wrote of Tom Green’s 2001 comedy film Freddy Got Fingered: ‘This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.’

Maybe half of it is that we resent the crazy motivation of those people who, despite their lack of inbuilt genius, actually dare to try, to attempt to commit whatever imperfect vision they had within themselves to film. The Room is terrible, but when have I ever financed, wrote, produced, directed and starred in a film? Never. Not once in my movie-watching, Cheerio-eating, self-deprecating life.