If you’re any kind of movie nut you’ve heard of, if not seen, The Room. Released in 2003 it was written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, who also played the leading role. It is famously bad. I’ve seen it referred to as the “Citizen Cain of bad movies.” Its badness is so noteworthy that it’s the subject of a new (much better, by all accounts) movie, The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring James Franco as Wiseau.
I’ve seen The Room and it’s as bad as advertised. In spite of that, or really because of it, it’s become a cult favorite, so much so that it’s actually made back the initial money spent on it (north of $6 million, all from Wiseau). Not because people actually like it, but because they revel in its awfulness. Wiseau seems to have made his peace with this, but it kind of pisses me off.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve said over and over again that a person’s response to art, what they like and don’t like, is deeply personal. In addition, I’m fond of enjoying stuff that consensus suggests sucks, what generally get called guilty pleasures (I hate the term). I, for example, have a deep affection for lots of movies people consider lousy that tend, for some reason, to involve Max Von Sydow (Victory, Dune, Flash Gordon). I like them because I like them, in spite of the fact that most people don’t. I’m cool with that kind of thing.
But from what I’ve read from people who have made The Room a cult favorite it’s not because they see it as an undervalued gem. Nor does it appear to fall into the “so bad its good” category, as everybody involved takes the thing completely seriously. No, it seems that people just really enjoy watching an artist fail, enjoy watching a horrible product because it’s horrible.
There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s dentist (a very pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) converts to Judaism and proceeds to tell lots of jokes of Jewish people. Jerry seeks out a priest to tell him of his problems with this.
As a mere consumer of pop culture I’ve got no problem with people interacting with The Room in any way they want. As a producer of it, as a writer, it kind of pisses me off that people take such enjoyment in something they know, and will admit, sucks. I know so many people – musicians, authors, visual artists – who put their heart and soul into their work and make good, but completely overlooked, stuff that it honks me off to see something celebrated because it’s bad.
My plea, I suppose, is this. If you love The Room because you really like it – which is a perfectly valid way to feel – then, by all means, go ahead and love it. But if you’re interest in it is merely to be part of the cool crowd that knows all about it because it’s horrible, spent your energies elsewhere. Try a new writer, stream a new musician, go to a local gallery. There’s good – even great – stuff out there waiting for you if you’re willing to look for it.