How much room do we have for bad movies? James Hewitt

Some would argue that if you still haven’t seen The Room, then you’ve missed out – this is a must-see film which stands as an essential cultural puzzle piece at the least, and a satirical masterpiece at best. Other moviegoers might be inclined to disagree, suggesting that The Room is the definition of unnecessary viewing, and you are lucky to have avoided seeing it thus far. How can two so starkly opposing views both be legitimately held about the same film? What are these viewers seeing that is so different? Does the controversy lie in the content, as in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Or is it in its difficult formal approach and the inclusion of unintelligible plot points, as in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive?

For the uninitiated, The Room is a 2003 independent drama film which has since rocketed its “auteur” Tommy Wiseau into cult infamy. However, this description alone doesn’t quite capture the film’s bizarre and unique nature. Though it is technically an independent, first-time effort by a novice director, with a cast that had for the most part never acted on screen before, its budget was $6 million USD – an unheard of sum for such a production. Also, though it was marketed as a drama upon its initial release, it has since been somewhat re-branded by Wiseau as a black comedy. Audiences have most definitely interpreted it as the latter.

Wiseau is not only the star of The Room but also its director, producer, writer and financier, and distributor; anything that can be said about this film can confidently be attributed to him. So, returning to our question from before, the controversy surrounding the film doesn’t stem from the content, form, or level of complication specifically, all of which are as bland as could be. The plot is concerned with your average love triangle scenario (man + girlfriend + best friend = betrayal), and pains are taken (by Wiseau and the audience) to clarify the central actions and relationships of the main characters. (One of the most demanding drinking games associated with the film has you drink each time you are reminded, by any character that Mark is Johnny’s “best friend.”)

No, any debate regarding the film’s value is rooted squarely in its quality. This is not to say that anyone would argue that it is a good movie, in the ordinary sense. It is clearly a terrible movie on every possible front – the writing, directing, acting, cinematography and (especially) its post-production elements.

However, fans of the film would argue that all of these components have been so poorly executed that it’s funny - that The Room is “so bad it’s good.” This phenomenon is nothing new when it comes to films. The low-budget campiness of Ed Wood’s features possessed such a quality, to which Tim Burton paid tribute in the film Ed Wood.

Still, it seems as if a love for such films has peaked in recent years. Films such as 1987’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 have had a second life with clips being popularized on YouTube (you may be familiar with the “Garbage Day” scene), and 1990’s Troll 2 had an entire documentary based on it last year called Best Worst Movie, produced by an actor in the film.

A burgeoning style of comedy even seems to be based on the same instincts that make people flock to screenings of these films, attempting to imitate the earnest-yet-horrible nature of the productions, as can be seen in television programs such as Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and BBC2’s Look Around You. Only these programs are self-consciously poor, for comedic effect. In the case of The Room, it seems as if all of the humour stems from the fact that the film doesn’t realize its own artistic poverty. Films that are only kind of bad aren’t entertaining– the film must be truly bad to be enjoyable. If a film is bad enough, it might just become a hit.

What inspires the interest in these films anyways? Is it a kind of schadenfreude? At least in some part it must be. Or could it relate to the average quality of films that are released today. Cinephiles will often bemoan the declining artistic value of contemporary cinema. Could it be that we’ve become so accustomed to marginally bad movies that when we are presented with a work with its shortcomings emphasized in a synergistic onslaught of incompetence, we gain some ironic joy that all the garbage is finally being acknowledged?

Perhaps, to take a somewhat Freudian explanation. If you asked Tommy Wiseau, still oblivious to the fact that everyone is laughing at him, why The Room has been so successful, he’d probably say it’s because of the film’s “witty” dialogue, not because the film is inherently bad. That, or he might just dodge the question, as he did frequently at a Q&A after the Toronto screening of the film a couple of months ago. It seems that regardless of why we seem to love these aesthetic abominations, they will continue to populate at least the fringes of our cinematic consciousness.

And if you haven’t seen The Room yet, don’t waste any time.

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