A Room with a Queue: unravelling the unrivalled popularity of the famously bad cult movie, The Room
From its un-humble origins as an inexplicably-wealthy-French-businessman-funded vanity project, played only in a select few San Franciscan cinemas during its release in 2003, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has become an enduring champion of the ‘so bad, it’s good’ genre. The movie is still so popular that, in 2013, cast member Greg Sestero (of ‘oh, hai Mark!’ fame) wrote a book about its making, and the film rights to it were quickly snapped up by the Franco Brothers. The movie about a book about a movie (are you still with me?), which will feature the brothers alongside an all-star cast of celebrity fans, including Zac Efron, Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Bryan Cranston, and Bob Odenkirk, is due for release in mid-2017. But what on earth is the appeal of this piteous project? And why was I overcome with girlish excitement at the prospect of asking Greg to sign a wooden spoon, which I had swiped from my flatmate’s utensil collection, at his talk in Bristol’s Bierkeller last week? I can’t admit to knowing the full answer to these questions but I will try to unwrap the phenomenon, if only for my own sanity.
We arrived at the Bristol Bierkeller, me brandishing my wooden spoon, ten minutes before doors opened and forty minutes before Greg was due to talk. By this point, the entry queue spanned half of All Saints’ Street, and already included three super-fans dressed in the classic ‘oversized suit, your dad’s ski sunglasses, and an American football’ cosplay. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though; tickets for the event at this 400-person capacity venue had sold out in only three days, in part thanks to the hugely enthusiastic efforts of the organizers, Bristol’s Bad Movie Club. The club screens the movie itself at an annual sell-out event, but this one was different: Greg Sestero was actually here, and had brought with him some exclusive interviews with the original cast, as well as the first draft of The Room’s horrible script for volunteers to read on-stage.
His entrance alone was enough to elicit screeches and whoops from the audience and it truly felt, sitting on a sticky picnic bench in a cellar lit by garish green bulbs and without so much as a card-reader at the bar, like we were in the presence of an Oscar winner or an original member of The Beatles. I screeched and whooped, too – overcome at the sight of this man whose one abiding role was beside Tommy Wiseau in the cinematic equivalent of autofellatio. Greg’s book, titled ‘The Disaster Artist’, even acknowledges this with zeal and, at the event, he admitted to a questioner in the audience that the publication was his magnum opus. Truly, it’s a beautifully written and riotously funny account of the strange French director from the man who “knows him as well as he knows himself” and, if you’re a fan of The Room or just a fan of movies and non-fiction, I cannot recommend it enough. But the real question that deserves to be answered is this: why is The Room, which almost every movie site (including the anti-prestigious Rotten Tomatoes) ranks as one of the worst films ever created, so beloved? And what makes a bad movie…good?
Reviewers like YourMovieSucks, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and Red Letter Media have built virtual empires on unpicking terrible cinema, but giants of the genre like Wiseau, Neil Breen, and Derek ‘Daddy’ Savage have such pure artistic intentions that they pour huge amounts of money and legal resources into rebuking this label. Contrast this with the popularity of movie series that try desperately to imitate the genre (like those Sharknado movies that absolutely no one watches but somehow they keep being made), and you get a reasonable sense of what makes a really bad movie ‘good’. But why isn’t every movie that gets terrible reviews, like that new Superman versus Batman debacle or any one of the numerous Fantastic Four movies, gleefully hilarious? Well, overthink it no more, friends, for I have compiled a handy reference which you can consult before bothering to waste your time on any (actually) terrible future movies.