Imagine this. All your friends are talking about a film called Room, a poignant drama about a mother and child imprisoned for the first five years of the former’s life and the effect that this isolation has on him. You forget the title and come across The Room, and think: “this must be it.” So you put it on, and are greeted by: two minutes of unnecessary shots of San Francisco, some strange writing, a teenage Peeping Tom who attempts an impromptu threesome, and three minutes of a sex scene where the lead actor aims for his co-star’s belly-button (the first of five such superfluous scenes, with the second coming just seven minutes after the end of the first one!). If you hadn’t already realised, this is not the film your friends were talking about.
No, this is far from the critically acclaimed Brie Larson film; this is the mysterious Tommy Wiseau’s (Lead Actor, Director, Producer, and Writer) The Room. It’s probably best described by Kevin Murphy – alumni of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and RiffTrax – as “the bad movie, of our time. The “Citizen Kane” of bad movies.” Yet, its appeal endures. It has certainly become a cult film, with fans flocking to showings whenever they appear, bringing with them pictures to be signed and plastic spoons to throw at the screen (one of many inside jokes the fans have), as well as working the more famous quotes into their everyday lexicon. Even if you haven’t seen or even heard of the film, you’ve probably encountered one of the many wonderful quotes it spawned, from: “Oh hi Mark!” to “Anyway, how’s your sex life?” Most famous, arguably, is when an impassioned Johnny (Wiseau) howls with a laughable attempt at agony: “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!”
The film is also plastered with loose-ends that are never tied up, scenes that don’t quite seem to fit, and odd decisions. In one scene, the male members of the cast (or, well, the ones that are at least consistently in it, plus Kyle Vogt’s Peter) mock Peter with chicken impressions for not wanting to throw a football around, then do so, all clothed in tuxedos. The tuxedos are never seen again, and have no relevance to the scene that follows. Another is where Lisa (Juliette Danielle) is talking to her mother, Claudette (Carolyn Minnott) who exclaims, “I definitely have breast cancer,” which is also never brought up again.
Perhaps the reason for the writing is that the entire film and screenplay were written by Wiseau himself, who – despite claiming until just last year that he was from New Orleans – clearly struggles with the English language. But it is difficult to explain the reason for the unrelated scenes and sub-plots, other than that Wiseau liked some scenes so much that he decided, even though they were irrelevant, he wanted to keep them in. There was also no opportunity for improvement, as Wiseau had funded the operation out of his own pocket (a whopping $6million, all from unknown sources), and refused to acknowledge much of the criticism that his cast and crew offered. It’s truly astounding just how nonsensical The Room can be, so much so that I still find myself asking today, “why would anyone make this? How could anyone make this?” when I’m watching it.
Tommy Wiseau aimed to make a modern American tragedy about the betrayal of a typical American by the people closest to him, but upon release, it was universally panned as laughable. But this might have worked out in the end. Despite only generating somewhere around $1,900 in the box office initially, it has gone on to make Tommy Wiseau a household name in Hollywood; and has become a film beloved by many. Shortly after release, Greg Sestero (Mark) wrote the award winning The Disaster Artist about his relationship with Tommy both before and during the making of The Room. Just last year this was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Dave and James Franco in the lead roles, as well as an array of other stars, and is a fantastic film in its own right.
Even though the film was not what Wiseau intended, it has certainly left its mark – no pun intended – on the movie industry. Fifteen years later, it’s still talked about, and in another fifteen years it still probably will. It will be remembered long after mediocre films which were significantly better, because of just how much of a train-wreck it is. It’s better to be spectacularly bad than boring – and this film excels at it.
Words by Adam Cooper