The Room, Tommy Wiseau and Why I Hate “So Bad It’s Good”Posted: September 13, 2013
There’s a part of me that really REALLY hates the fact that I’m writing about The Room. To the point that I don’t even want to search Google for the poster image to put at the head of this post. I’ve never seen it, and I really have no intention of ever doing so. However, I was recently given some up-close exposure to the whole phenomenon (such as it is) and it helped arrive at my own conclusions about the concept of movies that are “so bad they’re good” and why they frustrate me so much.
(For those who are unaware of what The Room is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Room_(film))
For the last year or so I’ve been working at a movie theater that screens The Room monthly. There’s always a decent crowd on hand for our usual showings but I tend to not engage with them all that much, or pay any attention to the movie. Recently, however, we had a special event, for which writer/director/star/weirdo Tommy Wiseau was in attendance for Q&As and meet-and-greets. So instead of our usual 150 people amiably shuffling into the theater twenty minutes before showtime we had 800 people banging down the damn doors and milling around for two hours, some of whom wanted to buy merchandise and meet Wiseau, and this was where I got my more detailed exposure to the nature of The Room phenomenon.
As far as I could tell there were four major types of people in attendance: newbies who had never seen the movie before, people who just casually enjoyed the schlockiness, people who were legitimately inspired by the movie in some way, and people who treated it as a big prank. It was mostly the latter two groups that wanted to meet Wiseau, and for very different reasons. The legitimate (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt but they seemed pretty genuine to me) fans wanted to meet the bizarre dude that made this movie that for some reason resonated with them, and while I don’t understand that resonance in the slightest I can’t fault people for feeling it and for wanting to meet the man behind it. The pranksters, though, are a whole ‘nother story.
These were the people that giggled and snarked at Wiseau while on the line, and then fawned all over him when they met him. They would laugh and say “He’s so retarded! He sounds like he’s having a stroke!” and then walk up to him and say “It’s such a huge honor to meet you!” These were people who were not here to appreciate the movie, or to enjoy it on it’s own bizarre terms; these were people that were there to laugh at Wiseau’s ineptitude, plain and simple. They were complete and utter phonies, paying a guy $30-$40 to mock him. And the more I thought about these snarky jackasses, the more furious I got.
The way I see it, an entire culture has been built on the foundation of mocking one man’s failures. And yeah, Wiseau might be in on it (and even if he’s not he’s still laughing all the way to the bank) but I don’t think that excuses the inherent shittiness of building the man and his movie up only to laugh at him when he’s not looking. It’s a rotten and mean-spirited approach to what is, quality aside, a work of art. If you connect with it, great, if you dislike it, that’s fine too. But if you don’t like it just do what I do 364 days out of the year and just ignore it; don’t go out of your way to pick on it. Having arrived at this conclusion I should’ve been all set and feeling superior about myself, but this nice and pat answer apparently wasn’t enough.
For starters, the nature of “so bad it’s good” is becoming more ambiguous with the advent of the SyFy original movie Sharktopus bullshit, with filmmakers who are making schlocky movies on purpose. How am I supposed to react to those movies and their fans? And again, the fact that people are heaping so much gleeful antagonism on The Room doesn’t seem to bother Tommy Wiseau (if anything, he’s benefitted more from it). And despite these jerks that make fun of him, there are still people who seem to legitimately connect with or be entertained by the movie on it’s own terms, and who don’t see the guy as a freak show. So if he’s unaware of- or made peace with- the mockery of his work, then what’s the harm? If he still has a (genuine) fanbase, then who cares? Why does it piss me off so much?
The clearest answer I could come up with is that, on an existential level, I personally would rather never become a filmmaker than be remembered as a laughingstock the way Tommy Wiseau is. I’d rather never take the shot than fail so miserably in the execution the way this guy did. Even though he does have some honest fans that enjoy his film without any irony or snark, he is still remembered at large as a failure, and I can’t stand the thought of being in that same boat.
And, I realize, that’s awful. If I’m ever going to make it as a filmmaker, or storyteller, or whatever, then I need to be willing to put it all on the line. Not just money, or time, but my (potential) reputation. I need to be willing to look like an idiot for all eternity if I’m ever going to get anywhere. It’s a truth that I’ve avoided or ignored or deluded myself about for a long time, but thanks to Tommy Wiseau and a bunch of irony-laden idiots, I can’t do that anymore. It’s time to nut up and be ready to look stupid.
Still not gonna watch The Room though. Fuck that noise.