THE ROOM: All Of The Badness, None Of The Passion

Mainstream showbiz does not have a monopoly on hype.  Any sector of the entertainment business, big or small, can manufacture a phenomenon within its own scene if there are enough people willing to carry the torch… and the biggest hype of recent memory in cult/bad-film circles is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

A lot of nouveau-showbiz types (everyone from Kristen Bell to David Cross) have taken this cinematic crash-and-burn to heart and The Room regularly packs ’em in at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater in Hollywood, having spawned a throng of devotees who engage in Rocky Horror/MST3K spectator-sport interaction with it.  Writer/director/star Wiseau wisely avoided fighting this trend and regularly appears at these screenings, often doing a Q&A session before the film instead of after it.

Unfortunately, The Room doesn’t deliver the sort of awe-inspiring non-cinema promised by the hard sell of these partisans and their auteur-idol.  Don’t get Your Humble Reviewer wrong: it’s bad – terrible, in fact – but it’s not the kind of crazy-inspirational bad necessary to create an anti-classic.  The plot is super-simple: Wiseau plays a well-meaning, philanthropic sap named Johnny who adores his bottle-blond lover and “future wife,” Lisa (Juliette Danielle).  Sadly, she has decided she no longer loves him and begins to fool around with his best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero).  Reams of cheap melodrama ensue.

In fairness to its growing cult, The Room is awful on multiple levels.  The acting and dialogue continuously plumb new depths of ineptitude.  There are several cringe-inducing sex scenes in which the star appears to be unfamiliar with how the missionary position works.  Subplots about Lisa’s mother having breast cancer and another character being in debt to a drug dealer are suddenly introduced, then abruptly dropped.  The phrase “future wife” is insistently used instead of “fiancee.”  Wiseau reigns at the center of it all, delivering his lines in an unknown middle-European accent and emoting in a way that suggests he’s never seen any sort of acting before.

In short, The Room boasts flaws galore… and yet it isn’t that entertaining, not even on a so-good-it’s-bad level.  Filmmakers reaching beyond their abilities can be entertaining but they have to do so in an inspired way to deliver a bad-movie classic.  Just like a good filmmaker, bad movie auteurs need to be constantly innovating, continually topping themselves scene after scene to create the sort of giddy rush that defines beloved bad-film gems like The Apple or Massacre Mafia StyleThe Room never hits those heights: instead, it establishes a dull, migraine-inducing level of badness in its early scenes and just rides on cruise-control until it reaches the end credits.

Why?  Because Wiseau lacks the passion necessary to make his inept art awe-inspiring.  Despite his recent claims that the film is a “black comedy,” Wiseau was obviously trying to make the kind of mild, middlebrow indie drama that regularly gets picked up at Sundance and shuffled through art-houses. The Room‘s poverty of ambition and inspiration keeps the film from ever delivering the gonzo-cinema goods.  In fact, the DVD has an interview with the director that is ten times more entertaining than the film itself.

Therein lies the real tragedy of The Room – it’s not even good at being bad.

7 Replies to “THE ROOM: All Of The Badness, None Of The Passion”

  1. Thanks for putting into words exactly my feelings on “The Room.” Yes, it’s bad, and occasionally fascinatingly so, but the fascinating parts are almost exclusively composed of Wiseau’s stoned-Christopher-Lambert performance. Next to the likes of, say “Troll 2,” it’s just not batshit insane enough to really be a great “bad” movie. I can’t say as I fully understand its’ appeal.

  2. I am a bit disappointed that you didn’t drop Greydon Clark’s name into your review. That man has passion like Vietnam has walnuts*.

    I’d also think that Tom Laughlin and Jim VanBeeber deserve a mention as passionate filmmakers. However, I really wouldn’t claim their work to be bad.

    One things the Room is drastically missing is a political point of view. The most impassioned filmmakers don’t just think their films will change their lives, they think their films will change the world.

    *Bad Bunch reference, for you honkey muthas not in the know.

    1. Very interesting and astute points. BTW, it has just been announced that VCI will finally be putting out a DVD of The Bad Bunch along with Hi-Riders.

  3. Another reason The Room fails is because it’s too safe. It’s bad with mittens.

    This is the sort of bad movie that only offends our sensibilities of what a good movie should be. Really bad movies usually offend much more. They offend our tastes, our sense of culture, even our politics.

    The Room challenges none of these. It only challenges the viewers ability to endure bad performances. It would be far greater of a bad movie if it challenged viewers beliefs.

    One only need compare The Room to something like The Witch Who Came From the Sea or Zebra Killer to see the difference. The Room is G rated bad movie making and in this way it is much akin to Plan 9 From Outer Space, that other reputed to-bad-to-believe film.

    Sadly, The Room and Plan 9 are really not that hard to believe. Anyone who has watched enough student films or the movies that don’t even get selected for film festivals know that The Room is not the unique. For one reason or another The Room and Plan 9 have just been bad enough and lucky enough to catch the attention of the mass public. Because they are Bad Film Lite they have a more broad appeal to the wider reaching public, in the same way most of MST3K’s films and Rocky Horror Picture show can garner larger crows because they are so tame.

    To make a truly unbelievable bad film the filmmakers have to possess the passion and the attitude to express themselves in a way that far exceeds technical ineptitude. Truly unbelievably bad films deliver ideas or politics that most would dare not address. One could call them politically incorrect, for that is what most of them are, or were.

    It is no surprise that some of the worst films, those ones that make you wonder if the filmmakers don’t have a little voice in their head telling them good from bad, are the films from a different era when there was less concern over being politically incorrect. Rather than pander to lowest common denominator lewd humor or graphic or pornographic gore, truly bad and unbelievably crazy films push provocative ideas or messages that most of us, even the champions of these films, would summarily dismiss as being wrongheaded. Yet, for one reason or another the filmmakers felt that they just HAD to deliver this message.

    1. Good points. I’ve heard some people refer to THE ROOM as “outsider art” and that drives me crazy because it suggests a complete misunderstanding of what outsider art actually is. This is the work of someone who settled for being an “outsider” when it became a commercially profitable schtick.

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