An infrequently updated dumping ground for one culture junkie's thoughts on film and whatever else

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why I'm not okay with THE ROOM.

I haven't seen Tommy Wiseau's The Room, the neo-Ed Wood cult phenomenon that's cornered the market on so-bad-it's-good movie appreciation in the early 21st century. And as of now, I have no plans to see it.

It's not that I'm above it all. I've engaged in my share of laughing at crappy art over the years. Last year, I went with some friends to a midnight screening of Troll 2, another popular title in the so-bad-it's-good genre (there's even a monument to its amusing awfulness in the form of a documentary called Best Worst Movie, whose makers were on hand to shoot footage at the screening I went to). I was reticent at first, but ended up having a pretty good time. It was liberating to partake in the shared experience of loud, collective snarking—not that every drunk dude in the audience with a propensity for derisive quipping was funny, but the fact that we were all breaking down the doors of the holy temple of cinema that is the Music Box Theatre and trashing it with this weirdly watchable gem of junk-culture crap made for a fun evening. For one night, the venerated rituals of polite moviegoing went out the window, and we masochists were free to let loose our inner Tom Servos.

So, okay then, why don't I want to recreate that experience with The Room, which is held in equal esteem by smart critics and undiscerning cultists?

Coupla reasons. For one thing, The Room is inseparable from its creator, the mesmerizingly unself-aware anti-auteur Tommy Wiseau. A cursory glance at any interview/appearance by Wiseau—try this one, which I had the dubious honor of transcribing in my stint as A.V. Club intern—reveals that, to put it simply, there's something wrong with him. The people responsible for inflicting Troll 2 on the world are nowhere to be seen, but Wiseau is front and center in every aspect of Room-mania: he attends as many screenings as he can, gives interviews, and even appeared as one of the tragicomic sideshow attractions on Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job. As far as this poor sap is concerned, the audiences who flock to midnight shows of The Room are there because they find its drama so emotionally compelling. I'm deeply uncomfortable with the exploitation of Wiseau, who clearly has mental health problems of one kind or another. Somehow this guy got a movie made. If you want to gather 'round and laugh at its ineptitude, go for it—I'm sure it's just as epically terrible as everyone says. But in what cruel universe is it considered acceptable, much less a fun night out, to mock borderline-retarded people to their face? Even if you disagree with my premise that Wiseau suffers from some sort of mental malady, surely you wouldn't dispute that creating a cult of personality around someone only to ridicule him to his face is just plain mean. I mean, this guy is getting on airplanes, traveling all over the country for screenings—he thinks people love his movie. He think it's a hit, that he's made it big! Don't you have something better to do?

Which brings me to the other reason why the ever-increasing popularity of The Room frustrates me. This past weekend, the film played to multiple sold-out crowds at the aforementioned Music Box, a beautiful old movie palace that dates back to the silent era. It currently serves as Chicago's major arthouse theater. According to their website, the theater seats 800 people, which means that capacity sell-outs are rare; after all, arthouse fare like Andrea Arnold's lovely Fish Tank (currently drawing low-attendance crowds at the Music Box) isn't known for putting asses in seats. But here's my beef: if you're gonna make it out to the Music Box for the schadenfreude festival that is Tommy Wiseau's traveling freakshow, why not maybe come back next weekend to see A REAL FUCKING MOVIE? It's a revolting injustice that a cult turkey like The Room can sell out a theater like the Music Box while films of actual, non-ironic value struggle every week to find even a meager audience. Is our film culture so diseased that an arthouse theater only draws the attention of its city's populace when it's overtaken by mean-spirited camp-lovers? Apparently, the answer is yes.

So go ahead and keep tormenting a damaged filmmaker while devaluing the meaning of arthouse theaters. I'll be giving my money and time to some movies that deserve it.


  1. This is really sweet of you, and while I admit I am both finding it funny and feeling bad for Tommy as well, I also agree with you on Tommy being mentally ill(I'm guessing Schizotypal, he fits a lot of the signs) but one thing-from what I've read Tommy actually is knows that people find it funny, he even passed it out as a black comedy after he found out that people thought it was funny, he mostly is just happy that the movie gotten popular even if he would preferred everyone to take it as a drama.

  2. You're 100% right. It's sick situation.