Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: The Room
The Room is the pinnacle of so-bad-its-good movie-watching. But it also intersects with the entire thesis of Your Weekend Cheesy Movie: a film can still be genuinely entertaining in spire of its flaws or directorial intent. The Room has many, many flaws while also revealing the passions of its creator. One might even say it’s impossible to look at The Room and not think of its writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau, a likely Eastern European transplant by way of France. His origins remain hidden, creating a further mystique for those who gaze into the vortex of The Room and its baffling choices. But somewhere in there is not only the best bad movie ever made, but one of the cheesiest things you’ll ever see.
The plot concerns apparent San Francisco native Johnny (Wiseau). We are constantly told he’s a good man. He has a secure position at a downtown bank. He also has a lovely home, which he shares with his future wife Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and he’s good to a neighboring college student named Denny (Philip Haldiman). Johnny also has a best friend named Mark (Greg Sestero) and a number of other associates who filter into his life and seek his sage advice. A few weeks before their wedding, Lisa makes a snap decision: she doesn’t love Johnny anymore because he’s “so boring.” This leads her to begin an affair with Mark, Johnny’s best friend, and sets in motion a series of tragic events.
Now keep in mind that I went to school for many years to learn the art of narrative. I spend most of my day thinking about narrative and get paid for my opinions about them. I’m pretty sure I’ve given you the most coherent synopsis of The Room that you will ever read. It’s a simple story of infidelity that will be familiar to anyone who caught a movie on Cinemax after, say, 10pm; that strange twilight zone in which the cable channel aired sexy thrillers that flirted with being softcore before the actual softcore aired at midnight. As a scenarist, Wiseau may have been influenced by watching one of those thrillers and some Skinemax softcore in a drunken haze as he frontloads The Room with sex scenes. Well, one sex scene which he then recycles roughly ten minutes after the first. The later half leaves sex behind for the breakdown of Johnny’s life.
Everything else you’ve heard about the film is true. The photo frames have pictures of spoons in them. The line-by-line writing reveals Wiseau’s tin-ear for dialogue and his appreciation for the everyday courtesies screenwriters learn to drop from dialogue. Every scene between Lisa and her mother (Carolyn Minnott) is essentially the same scene played out again and again in the hope that Wiseau and the performers will find the version that works. Also, Wiseau reveals just about every part of his anatomy early in the film.
People love to make fun of the flaws. The also love to examine this odd confluence of hubris and incompetence. But I genuinely believe people would not gravitate to The Room if it was just another bad movie. The charm, you see, is in the fact Wiseau is bleeding on the page and screen for his story. After you watch it a couple of times, it becomes painfully obvious that someone hurt Wiseau badly. They may not even be aware of their role in Wiseau’s life, but from his point of view, a person out there — whose name is probably some variation on Elizabeth considering a Lisa, a Betty, and an Elizabeth are all mentioned in the script — did not appreciate him the way he felt he deserved. This person ignored his ability to be financially secure and rebuffed his suggestion of marriage. At a lost to explain these things, Wiseau crafted a world in which he’s everyone’s best friend. In this pocket dimension, he’s a guy who understands money, drugs, sex and is always there to help out. He’s also strong and handsome to boot. Nevertheless, this person declined to be part of his life for reasons he’ll never be able to comprehend. So he blames it on “a women’s ability to change her mind” and thus The Room revolves around just how baffling Lisa’s autonomy is to both Johnny and Wiseau.
And once people got past the ever-present incompetence of the film, they connected to Wiseau’s pain; embedded in every page of his script.
Now, that might sound grandiose. And on examination, Wiseau’s problem with women is deeply troubling. But the naked, 17-year-old scorned loverboy theme of The Room still resonates. Wiseau, an obvious foreigner, doesn’t know how to properly mask his emotions in an American context. Johnny’s A Streetcar Named Desire-inspired outbursts look outsized to us, but perfectly matches the sensation Wiseau wants to convey about his own tale of love lost. Despite this mistaken deployment of film grammar, there is something so sincere about the madness on display in the film. At the same time, he is so desperate to convince you that he is American, that he screws up the American idiom in a way that is utterly endearing.
Without that sincerity, The Room would be little more than the Cinemax time-waster it most closely resembles.
But with the bedrock of strangely sincere emotion, the film layers on its bad performances, terrible sets, wonky editing choices and poorly tracked story for a singular film viewing experience. There’s not a cheesy or so-bad-its-good movie quite like it. Others are definitely worse when it comes to editing. Birdemic‘s sound mix makes The Room‘s seem Oscar worthy. The performances in a Coleman Francis movie make you question how acting could ever be a real profession. Yet, The Room manages to serve up all of these technical mishaps in a story that desperately wants you to empathize with it. The fact Wiseau seems to have succeeded is, frankly, remarkable.
The Room is not available on any streaming service, but is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Wiseau Films.