If you haven’t heard of The Room or watched it, you are in for a treat upon first viewing. This magical story is reminiscent of a short movie you had to write and record for a class in high school. You get an amazingly low production value, terrible green screen, abysmal script, and characters who have no reason to be talking in the movie. The movie is so bad it’s considered one of the best. Every line is so quotable and makes me laugh just thinking about them even though the movie is not intentionally funny at all – “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”
Director, producer, writer, lead actor, and all-around god of Hollywood Tommy Wiseau birthed this masterpiece for us. He brought it to life three different times for his fans. First as a play in 2001, then a 500-page book, then the movie we know and love today in 2003.
So how is it possible for the worst movie in history to become a cult sensation? Let’s take a look
The official synopsis of the film goes as follows: Johnny is a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his fiancée, Lisa. One day, inexplicably, she gets bored of him and decides to seduce Johnny’s best friend, Mark. From there, nothing will be the same again.
There are two essential things about this synopsis. The first being that beyond those first two sentences of the synopsis, nothing happens in the movie. The second takeaway is how the description fails to mention the fifty different plot points that pop up, then disappear, and the inability to tell a story cohesively. This is why the movie is such a masterpiece. At one point, we get to see a drug dealer with a gun against a character’s head, screaming and demanding money. This is never mentioned again for the rest of the movie. In another scene, Lisa’s mom says she has breast cancer, then it doesn’t come up again.
It’s almost impossible to describe the movie without just watching it.
Although the movie is considered with such high regard nowadays, the public just wasn’t ready for it at its 2003 launch. Kind of like when Marty McFly’s cool new song “Johnny B. Goode” didn’t get the reception he’d hoped. The movie initially launched in two theaters in LA and played for two weeks before the plug was pulled.
The total box office sales? $1,800. It would have made more, but during the premiere screening, most of the patrons had gone to the front and asked for a refund after 30 minutes. Thank goodness for the “No Refund” policy the theater put in place right after this screening.
Not long after its launch, it was put on the list of Worst Movies Ever. It earned its title with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 2.5/10, IMDb rating of 3.7/10, and a Metacritic score of 9 out of 100.
With terrible box office sales likes that, you’d hope that it had a low budget. Like a budget of $20, hopefully.
The movie’s budget was somehow $6 million. No, that’s not because he spent a lot on a marketing team, actors, or special effects. Actually, it’s because Wiseau decided not to rent equipment, but to purchase it. Additionally, he insisted that it be shot on both 35mm film as well as high-def video.
Beyond that, as part of his vision, he decided to build sets and put up a greenscreen for the rooftop’s shots instead of, you know, going on a rooftop and shooting.
If this seems odd to you, wait until you find out how Wiseau claims to have gotten the money; from importing and selling Korean leather jackets. You can’t make this stuff up.
Another piece of spending that wasn’t factored into the budget was the mysterious billboard that Wiseau paid to advertise on. It was a black and white ad that looked like it came from a newspaper. It had an RSVP number to one of the two theaters that ran the film for two weeks, the movie’s cover photo, and text too small to read. He kept the billboard for more than 5 years, reportedly costing upwards of $300,000.
Why is it So Bad?
There are a couple of factors. The first is the film itself; it’s a train wreck to watch. Painful, odd acting, terrible script. Nearly the entire movie takes place in one apartment, a roof, and a staircase – unfortunately not just one room. The funny thing about the staircase scene, as you might notice after watching the movie five times in a row without taking a break, is there is reused footage of Wiseau’s character Johnny going down the stairs. The rumor is that they didn’t have a license to shoot publicly in San Fran, so they improvised and just used random people’s fire escapes. A few police encounters and different bouts of questioning, then they just used what they had.
We also get a very repetitive 99 minutes from Wiseau here. His love interest Lisa just keeps complaining over and over again to her friends and mom that she doesn’t want to marry Johnny.
Production Value & Acting
Getting past how bad the plot is, take a look at the production value and dialogue. Wiseau has a decidedly unfamiliar accent and terrible grammar, and he wrote this piece, so it explains a lot. The dialogue seems like it put through Google Translate 50 times before printing it for the cast.
The acting was terrible as well. It was almost as if they were reading from a teleprompter that was structured like an eye test in the optometrist’s office. They would trail off, speak slowly and distortedly, and their delivery made no sense. Random pauses, they would lose control of their faces when they would deliver their lines, and they had no air behind them. Johnny’s ability to portray his emotions showed a range of skills we’ve never seen in Hollywood. Notably, in one scene, he was angrily shouting, “I did not hit her, I did not” before very casually greeting his friend, “Oh, hi Mark.”
Still, the film’s awfulness wouldn’t be quite so intriguing without the second reason for its cult status: the story of how it was made. If you had to guess how much The Room cost, you might stab at any figure between 50 cents and $14.85, but it had a budget of $6 million. Despite looking as if it was thrown together one weekend in a friend’s flat, it was actually shot over six months on a Los Angeles soundstage, and the tales of how Wiseau burnt through all that cash are essential to its mythos. Believe it not, he adapted The Room from a 500-page novel; he shot it on film and digital video simultaneously, replaced the crew four times, and the cast three times (“It was my way or the highway,” he says);
How did The Room gain such a following? Well, the movie is so bad it was good. It’s the type of film that you watch on your own, then pause it after 10 minutes and call all of your friends over to watch it together. You will laugh so hard you cry, and the movie doesn’t have a single funny punchline. The fact that it is so radically different from what you’d expect makes you yearn for more.
Similar to how the great authors and painters of olden time didn’t get any recognition until after their death, The Room didn’t get any recognition until nearly a decade after its conception. It also got the attention of a director and actor James Franco, who made The Disaster Artist an entire movie about the mad man who was at the helm of The Room, Mr. Wiseau himself. But that alone doesn’t garnish a following.
It’s kind of like that Mel Brooks movie The Producers. They try to make the worst possible movie to scam people, but it turns out to be an iconic classic. The only problem, though, is we are pretty sure The Room had no intention of being funny.
During shooting The Room, director Wiseau replaced the entire cast three times, and the crew four times. That should tell you all you need to know about this director and therefore this movie. It sent the viewer on a crazy journey and etched itself in the history books. The Room is the best worst movie in history, and if anyone says differently you can tell them to “leave your stupid comments in your pocket!”
What do you think of The Room? Cult classic or just a box office bomb? Leave a comment below…