It’s only funny if someone tried their hardest. The Room is the default “so bad its good movie” and often even falsely labelled the worst film of all time. That may be giving writer and director Tommy Wiseau a smidge too much credit, especially when we live in a world of Shark Exorcists, Manos’s and Hands of Fates, of dreadful Cannibal Holocausts, and things still worse and yet more commercial. But then again, there has always been a certain mean-spirited streak to laughing at clearly inept filmmaking.
Not even bothering to offer sincere critique but bonding over our shared knowledge that this is a real… best not to say, and how could anyone think otherwise, believe in it enough to release their disaster, widely. The fact is, Wiseau and the rest of the cast and crew and all who survived The Room’s production have managed to turn the phenomenon to their favour, Wiseau especially, who has decided that he always meant his film to be a tragicomedy (the tragedy, presumably, is that it isn’t meant to be funny). He now directs purposefully shoddy films in a bid to outdo the Asylum (the studio behind schlock cash grabs like Sharknado).
For filmmakers who feel too empathetic towards the cause of a fellow artist to laugh, The Room is a powerful educational tool, nonetheless. The film The Disaster Artist (the movie) isn’t a great companion piece, though it is fun. The Disaster Artist, the book, is a perfect example of one. It somewhat spoils the purity of the totally stupefying bizarreness, but it colours the movie in shades far richer than you might have imagined The Room to be capable of. All unintentional, of course.
Some choices become even funnier when you understand exactly what Tommy thought he was doing, for instance with his performance in the lead role of Johnny. Though there is unending delight in the absolutely mystifying nature of Wiseau’s big swing acting moments, understanding the man’s affection for James Dean puts things into a new, slightly more embarrassing light. That ultra-teenager squelch of agony when Dean blurts out “You’re tearing me apart!” in Rebel Without a Cause goes on to inspire the disconcertingly Frankenstein-ian expulsion of Wiseau’s own “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”.
Most illuminating of all, a fascinating narcissism becomes apparent in the themes of the plot. It was always clear, of course, but now it’s profoundly involving. The character of Johnny, beyond obviously Tommy’s idealised self-insert, is an all-American dreamboat, betrayed by just about everybody he knows. Everyone around him hurts him. He takes his life in dramatic, Shakespearean fashion, and everyone learns their lesson: they should have been better towards him. This is the fantasy of a 12-year-old who hasn’t been invited to the big party this weekend. For everything that makes The Room a shoddy, even arduous experience, it contains more artistic integrity than most modern blockbusters. Here you’ll see a man’s soul made bare, even if he may not have intended it that way.
This holds the key to the appeal of even a terribly executed film. Why a forgettable film will never be seen past some day but a memorable disaster attracts not only fascination but adoration, a cultish reward for their efforts. Ironic dollars are real dollars, and the fact is that it’s only fun if you find something charming about it. Have you heard of Shark Exorcist? Doubtful. Have you heard of The Room? Probably. Bob Odenkirk has. The Room is admirable because it is sincere. You can’t blame Neil Breen, nor Ed Wood, nor Tommy Wiseau for creating unfettered art. You feel you ought to reward it, and so millions have, for Ed Wood long after his death. Breen continues to self-finance his films with the help of fans, as does Wiseau. Never discount sincerity. It is a rare commodity in the movie business.