The Room: A Ten-Year Cult Phenomenon

Zev Burrows


In 2003, an unknown filmmaker named Tommy Wiseau produced a movie that was, upon initial release, labeled as one of the worst if not, the worst film of all time. Ten years later, his cult classic The Room is still celebrated in various countries for its numerous flaws and unintentional humor. The film regularly sells out at midnight screenings, and there is a rumor that Wiseau himself attends screenings whenever he can; in other words, The Room is this generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show (minus the musical numbers and overall quality).

    The giant elephant in the room (no pun intended) that must be addressed is whether or not the film actually succeeds. Well artistically, of course not. And it even seems that the director himself set out to make a truly bad piece of cinema. Critics have even called it “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”. I have now seen The Room twice (which, by the way, is a major accomplishment. Some people haven’t even been able to stomach the first 30 minutes), and the first time I didn’t see what the big deal was. I mocked it to no end yes, but after attending a midnight screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, I finally understood.

    For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I’ll briefly sum up: Johnny (Wiseau) is a successful banker living in San Francisco with his fiancé Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Their favorite pastime is deep, sensitive lovemaking to outrageously unlistenable pop songs. But soon Lisa grows bored with Johnny and decides that she doesn’t love him anymore. So in a turn of events within the first 15 minutes of the film, she seduces his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), who is reluctant at first, but gives in eventually; this act will be repeated thrice throughout the course of the film.

    Other than this awkward love triangle, the film even grows bored with itself as it diverges into multiple side plots that are never resolved nor discussed after they’ve happened: Lisa’s mother Claudette (Carolyn Minnott) visits her daughter numerous times just to hear that Lisa doesn’t love Johnny anymore and to remind her that Johnny is her financial support; Denny (Philip Haldiman), a college student that Johnny supports and loves like a son, gets involved with drugs in one scene and the situation is never spoken of again. The list goes on and on.

    Other than the flaws in the narrative, The Room is technically absurd: the line deliveries by Wiseau (who produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film) are unbelievably clumsy and sound as though he was trying throughout the entire course of the film for an accent that was unique and romantic (some have labeled it as “Borat trying to do an impression of Christopher Walken playing a mental patient”). The film was also made on a budget of $6 million. I don’t think I need to tell you how badly that made the cinematography, editing, and music suffer. Ultimately, it’s pretty amazing if someone can actually find something to care about in The Room (in just a single scene, Wiseau buries breast cancer as a minor inconvenience).

    The movie I just described sounds as if it couldn’t actually exist. Upon my first viewing, I thought that as well. But as Internet film critic Doug Walker once said, it is one of those movies you have to see to believe. There is a certain level of bizarre to The Room that I don’t think any other film in history has ever achieved. I’ve seen movies that are worse than this one, but even they weren’t as weird. In my movie-going experience, I’ve found that most bad movies are usually not awkward, but rather offensive. Wiseau’s cult hit is certainly offensive in some ways (I still can’t tell if the movie is intentionally or unintentionally misogynistic, but either way, it treats women in the most insulting ways), but due to its sheer laughable aspects, the negative reception towards the film is almost immediately directed towards its narrative and technical flaws first.

    But if I just said it is one of those movies you have to see to believe, it is because no one could deliberately make a movie that is so cheesy and hammed. Even Ed Wood himself never set out to purposefully make bad films! But in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wiseau has claimed that making a bad movie was his intention. He has often labeled it as a black comedy, but most audiences see it as a poorly made drama (which I agree with, even though that is a masterpiece of an understatement). Either the man is mixed up about what a black comedy is (the Coen brothers’ Fargo is a great example of one), or he is trying to disguise it as best he can from the ultimate fact that it is a drama that doesn’t work at all.

    When the film was first released, it made $1,900. Yes, you read it right. Not even $2000. As you can imagine, it was pulled from theaters not long after its debut. But somehow, word got out that The Room was the single worst film ever made, and that it must be seen. In 2004, Wiseau arranged three screenings, and ultimately, the film became so popular that he had to schedule screenings at multiple theaters and multiple times.

    Ten years after its debut, The Room is still shown regularly at cinemas across the world as an elaborate joke. Even with what I have described as much of what is so wrong with the movie, it continues to delight audiences everywhere for its lunacy and failure. (I even have a friend who has probably seen the film 20 times, at least 5 of them at a midnight screening.) When I went the other night with friends, I didn’t see the movie for re-evaluation reasons (there is absolutely no redemption for such an absolute misfire). But as so many people have described, seeing The Room at a midnight screening is an experience. Many people come dressed as their favorite character (I saw one or two people dressed as Wiseau’s character Johnny), make fun of and applaud the horrendous dialogue, acting, cinematography, and editing, and throw plastic spoons at the screen whenever an image of a spoon appears.

It is a truly hilarious experience, but one that I don’t think should be experienced by everyone; if you have seen The Room before and it wasn’t at a theater, you practically need to change that. I saw came across several people at the screening who hadn’t seen the movie before, and to be blunt, it toned down (by a very small margin) the amount of fun I had. They were telling other audience members who were obviously in on the joke to be quiet and that they were trying to watch the movie. Normally, this would be a perfectly acceptable situation. But in the case of The Room, to see it at a midnight screening, you need to understand the joke; in other words, you have to see it in another setting before you see it in a theater.

In most cases, bad movies are not worth wasting time over. But this is a special circumstance: however much The Room may fail at everything it attempts, it is still honestly worth checking out. It is by no means good or even okay. This is bad cinema. But it is bad cinema so dumbfounding and so illogical that must be seen to understand the lengths of bad moviemaking. And if you do see it, make sure you see it twice: once on DVD, and once in the theater. Maybe it could become your very own Rocky Horror Picture Show. (But Rocky Horror is actually a good film, so…) In a small statement of closure, I can give only one more thing to The Room that I have often used to describe it with: it is a masterpiece of incompetence.