Most low-budget vanity projects end up unseen, unknown, unparodied. But not Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. For some reason, this talentless lump of movie rose to prominence as a perfect mistake, a failure of epic proportions, an exemplar of how to do everything, but everything, wrong. The Room became a cult film, spawning screenings around the country and attracting the attention of such media-savvy critics as The A.V. Club and Patton Oswalt, and has brought crowds of renters and theater-goers to their knees with laughter.
[Soak this in: this unpromising trailer actually makes the film look much more competent and well-crafted than it is. Yup.]
I have to admit: The Room had an unexpected effect on me. It’s almost impossible to describe how odd this film is. It’s not just hopelessly inept (though it is certainly that), but deeply uncanny, as if a group of non-Earthlings decided to make a Lifetime channel movie (but inexplicably decided to make it from the perspective of a misogynist) using signifiers that they thought actual humans would recognize: red roses and pillowfights are romantic; saying hi to doggies and supporting young persons of indeterminate age means you’re a Good Person; pictures and portraits of spoons depict, I dunno, domestic comfort.
In The Room, all the conventions of film language (and indeed, of normal life) are a little askew, and it fills the whole movie with a pervasive sense of wrongness. At first it’s pretty funny to see just how wrong it is, how utterly incompetent Wiseau is as a writer, a director, an actor — how completely he fails to convey even the most mundane of daily life to the screen.
After a while, my laughter wore off and a deep despair took hold. I still have not entirely shaken it. (Wiseau’s appearance didn’t help: he looks like Fabio after a week in the grave, and even the way his grayish skin clings to his golem-like frame is pretty unsettling.) Listen, I LOVE bad movies. But The Room is a different creature than, say, Road House or even Bloodrayne. I can understand how and why those films got made, and how and why Boxing Helena got made, and how and why most of absolutely terrible movies get made.
But I don’t understand how and especially why someone spent giant sacks of money to make The Room*, and viewing it made me wonder why anyone tries to do anything. Seeing the film plunged me into a pit of existential angst, and it took days to climb back out. The Room is the abyss, and I have looked into it.
*Unless it’s a money-laundering project, which doesn’t brighten my world-view much.