For the past 14 years or so, I’d managed to avoid the cultural phenomenon of The Room. Sure, I was aware of its popularity as a movie which was so bad that it developed a cult fandom — notably among celebrities like Paul Rudd and Adam Scott — and fascination with something so poorly made and conceived that it couldn’t possibly have been a sincere effort.
Since The Room was released in 2003 (famously, on just one screen in Los Angeles), I’ve nursed a slight curiosity about the movie. Naturally, I wanted to know if it was actually that bad. I also felt maybe I should have an informed opinion about it. And occasionally, I felt left out of an online conversation or social thread stumbled upon while scrolling timelines. But none of those were really enough to compel me to follow through and take the plunge.
I have mixed feelings on the idea of consuming bad pop culture. We all have guilty pleasures — movies, TV, music and books that we enjoy, but don’t feel comfortable telling anyone about. (That’s probably lessened for most with the internet. You can find kindred spirits in any Facebook group, message board or Reddit thread.)
I’m certainly not going to act like I’m above seeing a bad movie. But with so many good movies out there and so many excellent TV series to binge on these days, why waste a couple hours with something truly awful? (You could spend that time with friends and family too, or even eating a nice meal. But let’s assume you’re staying in.)
Apparently, James Franco provided the motivation I needed. With The Disaster Artist, based on the book by The Room co-star Greg Sestero, Franco gave me that final push, compelling me to buy a copy of the movie on DVD.
Nope, it’s not available on streaming, so I had to buy it. Tommy Wiseau (The Room‘s mysterious writer-director) won again. It’s not enough that his movie somehow became a cult hit, prompting screenings throughout the country. It’s not enough that he achieved a place in pop culture where he can laugh at himself and get away with that. No, if you want to see his movie, you have to buy it or pay to watch a screening somewhere.
Maybe I could’ve found a friend who had a copy I could borrow. I don’t know. I’d like to think I could give it to someone at some point or bring it to a party. Maybe I’ll leave it in a coffee shop someday.
Even after buying a DVD copy following the Disaster Artist‘s teaser trailer release, it still took me some time to watch. Wiseau’s face on the DVD cover stared at me for months from my TV stand, attempting to lure me in. But with The Disaster Artist hitting theaters on Dec. 8, I finally joined in the fun. (Plus, we couldn’t find anyone else willing to review The Room who hadn’t seen the movie yet.) I didn’t want to wonder whether or not I would enjoy Franco’s movie more or feel as if I was missing something if I hadn’t seen The Room.
With all that, here are some takeaways after I saw The Room for the first (and maybe only) time:
It really is that bad
Yes, it’s that bad. This is an awful movie. The writing is dreadful, both in terms of dialogue and story. (The narrative just stops several times for bad love scenes that were apparently inspired by 1990s Cinemax After Dark.) It’s shot like a porn movie (a bad porn movie) and set to terrible music. I do think Wiseau might be trying to say something here, but neither he or nor the other actors in the cast have the talent to properly convey those themes.
You might have more fun watching with friends or a theater audience
Most of what I’ve read about The Room indicates that it’s more fun in a shared experience (preferably of the midnight movie variety), with the audience shouting out lines like “Oh hai, Mark” or “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”
It has to be more fun to look over at a companion or group of friends in mutual disbelief over bad wardrobe and hair, inexplicable lines of dialogue, and characters that don’t seem to play any necessary role in the story beyond the three leads. Watching with others will probably also help you power through a movie you’ll want to give up on after about 20 minutes. (I stopped a few times to check email and Twitter on my phone.)
So share your pain. Don’t go through this alone.
The Room doesn’t know what it’s about
This is arguably the biggest problem with the movie. Is this a story about a man (an All-American man, in Wiseau’s view) who finds out that the American dream is impossible? Is it a dark, cynical take on women and their motivations in a relationship? Is the movie trying to say that friends will inevitably betray you, no matter how much you love and trust them (or badly throw a football with them)? Is it a cautionary tale in letting too many people have the keys to your apartment?
The answer could be yes to all of the above. And maybe there’s something to be said for a movie that prompts this many questions. But it’s not because The Room is trying to challenge you as a viewer. It’s because the movie honestly doesn’t know what the hell it’s trying to say or where it’s going.
Why is the movie titled The Room?
I have no idea. The only person who does might be Wiseau, and I bet you he doesn’t know either. The 2015 movie Room actually took place in a room, the box where Brie Larson’s character was held captive since being kidnapped as a teenager.
Most of the scenes in The Room take place in two rooms of note, the living room of the apartment that Johnny (Wiseau) and Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and the bedroom where the movie’s love scenes are set. The story’s dark climax also takes place in that bedroom, but I won’t spoil that in case you actually want to see this thing — or The Disaster Artist. So maybe that’s the “room” that the title refers to. That’s more of an explanation than anything provided in the movie.
See The Room before The Disaster Artist
We’ll address The Disaster Artist in a separate review, but I felt like I enjoyed it much more having seen The Room, if for no other reason than to see that James Franco isn’t just making up this guy Tommy Wiseau. He really was like that, with the accent, villainous look, shockingly bad delivery, and warped idea of what American life is like. It’s all right there in his movie.
That’s not to say The Disaster Artist can’t be appreciated on its own merits. Franco’s performance is great, adding to what’s become an impressive collection of oddball characters during his career. Dave Franco also does good work as Greg Sestero, capturing the frustrations of someone trying to make it as an actor, in addition to someone trying hard to stand by a friend when every sign is telling him otherwise.
The rest of the cast is a virtual all-star cast of comedy talent, including Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Alison Brie, Jason Mantzoukas and Nathan Fielder. Smaller roles from Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver and Josh Hutcherson add depth to an impressive ensemble. (Hutcherson as Phillip Haldiman, who plays “Denny,” The Room‘s strangest character in a college kid who somehow lives in the same apartment complex as Johnny and Lisa, and also expresses feelings for Lisa despite she and Johnny almost being his surrogate parents, gets laughs just from looking at him.)
Maybe it’s most surprising that Franco’s Pineapple Express and Your Highness director David Gordon Green didn’t make this film, but Franco knows how to direct a film and it’s fun to see him utilize his comedy friendships with this movie. You’ll also appreciate just how much work he put into recreating The Room (both what was in front of the camera and behind it) if you’ve seen it for yourself.
Considering that The Disaster Artist finished fourth at the past weekend’s box office, however, plenty of people didn’t feel the need to put themselves through the movie that inspired it first. It’s probably best to follow their lead. Life’s too short and there are too many other good things worth your viewing time.