Embracing the Best of the Bad: The Room and why we love bad movies

By Anna Godek

It was close to midnight on a late August night as I made my way to my seat in the movie theater, box of plastic spoons in hand. I was there to see a movie, and I was hoping it would be bad. Really bad. I wasn’t disappointed—it was terrible.

I was there to see The Room, a movie so hilariously awful it’s known as “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” The plot supposedly follows the love triangle between the protagonist, Johnny (Tommy Wiseau); his fiancé, Lisa (Juliette Danielle); and Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), but to say the film has a distinguishable plot would be generous. As The Room unfolded before me, I laughed and cheered. Along with the rest of the audience, I threw spoons and heckled the characters on screen. I chanted at the Golden Gate Bridge. When I left the theater, my sides ached from laughing. I couldn’t wait to see it again.

Yes, people don’t see The Room because it’s good, they go to laugh at how mind-bogglingly bad it is. They go to mock it with other moviegoers. The Room is the brainchild of writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau. Financed with his own money ($6 million, supposedly made selling knock-off jeans), the movie was released in 2003. Wiseau can’t act, write, or direct with any competency, and it shows. Much of the dialogue is absurd, and the production value is so low that the art department bought framed pictures of spoons to help furnish Johnny’s apartment, where most of the action takes place. This oddity led to the audience’s ritual of yelling “Spoons!” and throwing plastic cutlery at the screen whenever they’re shown. While The Room is probably the most famous of the so-bad-it’s-good movies, it’s certainly not the only one; there are plenty of famously funny-bad films out there, so much so that they constitute their own genre.

The appeal of these movies lies in their ability to make us laugh. Much of comedy is based around people acting illogically, refusing to follow social norms, or subverting our expectations in some way. This is why, for example, we laugh when a stupid-looking monster leaps out at the screen in a B-horror movie—it isn’t actually scary. Unlike bad movies that are just mediocre or boring, bad-good movies are bad in more unpredictable ways. For instance, in Troll 2, a movie that rivals The Room for worst movie of all time, the child protagonist has to stop his family from eating goblin-infected food. He does this by urinating all over the dinner table. Surely there are other ways to stop people from eating food, but not in the strange and wonderful world of bad-good movies.

In the notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space, the line “future events such as these will affect you in the future” is actually spoken as a serious piece of dialogue. On some level, we’re just laughing at the total incompetency of the filmmaking. For movies that usually make the top of the so-bad-it’s-good list, like Troll 2, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Birdemic, and The Room, there’s a special combination of painfully low production value, absurdly poor writing, and acting so bad that you’ve seen better in middle school plays. In other words, comedic gold. The appeal of these movies also lies in the communal way they’re often consumed: screenings of Troll 2 and The Room generally involve major audience participation, like the spoon throwing mentioned earlier. The interactive nature of the showings further sets the bad-good classics apart as a unique experience.

Angelina Shi.png
Art by Angelina Shi

While there are many contenders for the top title in the so-bad-it’s-good genre, The Room inevitably wins out as the best (or worst?). It’s simply the most absurd, bizarre, and terrible thing out there. All rules of logic and reality seem suspended when you watch The Room. In one scene, the male characters are all wearing tuxedos as they toss around a football, and it’s never explained why. It seems that there was some subplot that would necessitate tuxedo wearing that didn’t make it into the final cut. Additionally, the movie’s intended emotional climax is best described as “that scene where Tommy Wiseau humps a dress.” The absolute sincerity with which Tommy Wiseau made The Room adds another layer of comedy; he truly thought that he was making something great and that normal people actually act the way they do in his movie.

The Room also fascinates people because of the story surrounding its filming and its enigmatic auteur, Tommy Wiseau. First of all, no one knows for sure how old Wiseau is or where he was born–his unplaceable accent might hint at Eastern Europe, but Mars is also a possibility. In 2013, Greg Sestero released a memoir called The Disaster Artist about The Room’s troubled (to put it mildly) filming and his relationship with Wiseau. It reveals such wonderful details as the fact that the first thing Tommy orders in a restaurant is always hot water, that he drives twenty miles per hour below the speed limit, and that he wanted a subplot in The Room where Johnny was revealed to be a vampire. Sestero also relates how it took a whopping three hours to film Wiseau’s infamous “I did not hit her” dialogue, which is only seven seconds long. The more you dig into the life of Tommy Wiseau, the more questions you have, such as, “Did he really make millions of dollars selling knock-off streetwear jeans?” As you look closely at the narrative that emerges from The Disaster Artist, there is a twisted inspirational underdog story and a strange immigrant success story. Tommy Wiseau apparently built himself up from nothing (by selling shady streetwear denim) after coming to America, and, despite all odds, fulfilled his dream of making a movie. He is, in some ways, a distortion of the self-made man ideal. The Room makes you question that definition of success. After all, it has brought its creator enduring fame, and people from all around the world love it and pay to see it. But, of course, it’s famous for being spectacularly awful. What conclusions to draw from this, I leave up to you. But, with a film adaptation of The Disaster Artist coming out and Wiseau and Sestero reuniting for a (non-Tommy directed) movie called Best F(r)iends, The Room is only becoming more culturally relevant, and, by extension, so are all so-bad-it’s-good movies. So, if you haven’t already, it’s time to embrace the genre. Don’t forget your spoons!

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