Why is “The Room” So Bad?
If you’ve never seen the film (or even if you have), you may ask yourself, “Why is ‘The Room’ so bad?” The film, written, produced, and directed by Tommy Wiseau, has achieved cult status, selling out midnight shows across the country. It is a movie famous for being so bad it’s good.
“The Room” is an independent dram that tells the story of Johnny, his relationship with his fiancée Lisa, and his betrayal by Lisa and his best friend, Mark. On the surface, Johnny and Lisa seem to have a passionate relationship, but Lisa confesses to her mother, Claudette, and her friend, Michelle, that she has grown bored with Johnny. Although Michelle and her mother advise her to stay with Johnny, Lisa seduces Johnny’s best friend, Mark. Lisa continues her affair with Mark through the movie, and continues to stay with Johnny for financial support while at the same time making false accusations of domestic violence against Johnny. Johnny eventually discovers Lisa’s affair when he overhears her confessing to her mother. He decides to tape record her phone conversations to determine the identity of Lisa’s lover.
The story culminates with a surprise birthday party thrown by Lisa for Johnny. At the party, Lisa and Johnny’s mutual friend, Steven, discovers Lisa and Mark kissing. He threatens to tell Johnny, and Mark convinces him to remain silent. As the party winds down, Lisa tells Johnny of her affair. Johnny then locks himself in the bathroom. Lisa packs her bags in preparation to leave Johnny for Mark. Johnny emerges from the bathroom, claiming that everyone that he loves has betrayed him, and kills himself with a pistol.
While the secret affair between Lisa and Mark is the main plot of the story, “The Room” contains several subplots and secondary characters. Lisa and Johnny’s neighbor, Denny, a college student whom Johnny loves like a son, has a run in with a drug dealer, Chris-R. Lisa’s mother has a host of personal problems – issues with her boyfriend, her ex-husband (Lisa’s father), and reveals in one scene that she has breast cancer. And, Michelle and her boyfriend have sex in Johnny and Lisa’s apartment. None of the subplots are resolved during the movie. Frankly, I’m not sure if you can really call them “subplots.” They’re more akin to the non-sequiters that Johnny is always spouting off.
Johnny – Tommy Wiseau
Lisa – Juliette Danielle
Mark – Greg Sestero
Denny – Philip Haldiman
Michelle – Robyn Paris
Claudette – Carolyn Minnott
Steven – Greg Ellery
Peter – Kyle Vogt
Chris-R – Dan Janjigian
Mike – Mike Holmes
Production and Filming
Tommy Wiseau originally wrote “The Room” as a stage play, but was unsuccessful in producing it. He then adapted it to novel format, which he had no success in publishing. Ultimately, Wiseau decided to adapt his story into a film, which he produced himself. Wiseau raised an inexplicably large amount of cash, $6 million, to make the movie, for which he used both a film camera and a high definition camera to film. The majority of the film was shot in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with many of the San Francisco scenes green screened in.
Why “The Room” Is So Bad
There are really two ways to approach the question, “why is The Room so bad?” One is, what exactly is it that makes the movie so bad? Here are a few answers.
First off, though, it’s important to realize that The Room isn’t that bad. Don’t skip down to comments and tell me I’m full of it – it certainly is bad. But it’s not incoherent or unwatchable. Some “so bad they’re good” cult classics are literally painful to watch. Sitting through Birdemic is honestly difficult. If that’s entertainment, then cancel Netflix and get your hands on the local middle school’s AV club back catalogue.
In contrast, The Room’s production quality is passable. It’s bad – go to a midnight show and count how many times the crowd shouts, “focus!” But it’s professional enough that it feels kinda sorta like watching a “real” movie.
And that’s what makes it so deliciously awful: it’s a kinda sorta real movie that falls flat on its face. The reasons are manifold: the dialogue, the acting, the premise, the loose ends, the over-the-top melodrama, Wiseau’s unusual screen presence. Here are some other, er, weaknesses.
• The “Love Scenes.” Mr. Wiseau’s been known to object pretty strongly if you call them anything else, so I’ll stick with his preferred nomenclature. If they were only ham-handed Cinemax dreck, then that would be bad enough. But what allows them to rise to their zen-of-incompetence heights are the overlay of awful slow jams and a stubborn refusal to end. Not to mention that, whenever the mood seems to strike, we’re swept along on a multi-minute spectacle of poor taste. And, the waterfalls!
• Scene Structure. One of the mantra’s drilled into aspiring auteres in filmmaking 101 is that you enter a scene as late as possible and cut away as soon as you can. Wiseau was apparently sick that day, so The Room’s audience is treated to an interminable string of greetings and goodbyes. Johnny’s nasally “oh, hai” is the hardcore fan’s standard greeting, but pretty much every character spends a good chunk of the movie saying hello or goodbye.
•Violent Scene Punctuation. But Wiseau apparently picked up on one bit of received filmmaking wisdom: if possible, punctuate the end of a scene with the equivalent of a punch line. So multiple scenes end with bizarre injuries, oddly enough often football related. Both “tuxedo catch” and “me underpants” are perfect (is that the word?) examples.
•The Misogyny. Yeah, this is actually kind of a downer – even if Mark’s bizarre anti-woman rooftop rant is pitch-perfect hilarious.
But even after a viewer starts to wrap their hear around the ultimately-unfathomable question of what it is that makes The Room so bad, there’s another question lurking right around the corner: how did this happen? How did this movie get so bad?
The answers are really one and the same. This was clearly Tommy Wiseau’s baby, and his, er, “vision” drips from every frame. There’s an apocryphal story that, one day, near the end of shooting, while Wiseau was just out of sight, the whole crew burst out laughing. But nobody was going to say anything to Tommy’s face. He was paying the bills. (How is a well-researched but never-answered mystery.) What he wanted, he got – and that’s how we got this movie.
Which is ultimately why The Room has its devoted fans. In a world of summer tentpoles and well-vetted high-concept star vehicles, there something – something – to be said for a film that reflects an artist’s true vision.
Even if it is simply awful.