Every month at the Regent Landmark Theater in Los Angeles, a very dedicated group of fans gathers to pay homage to a film unlike any other. It’s not a seminal work from a respected auteur or renowned cult classic — the sort of movies that usually deserve such treatment. No, these people are here to see what might very well be the worst film of all time.
Released in 2003, The Room was written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, a spectacularly poor filmmaker lacking any self-awareness and who refuses to elaborate on the exact origins of his thick yet impossible-to-place accent. His magnum opus tells the story of Johnny (played by Wiseau, naturally), a well-meaning man whose life would be perfect if his ungrateful fiancee didn’t cheat on him with his best friend out of boredom. The film chronicles the unraveling of their relationship and the earth-shattering consequences of her infidelity. But despite the potential of its dramatic elements, The Room is, by even the most forgiving standards, terrible on a nearly awe-inspiring level.
From the nonsensical script that introduces and abandons narrative elements at random to the abysmal acting, the universally laughable dialogue and a complete misunderstanding of how a movie should be filmed, The Room is not merely bad. If “bad” sufficed as a description, the film would quickly have been forgotten. But by failing in every conceivable way so spectacularly and — above all — so hilariously, The Room took on a life of its own.
Plenty of people enjoy bad movies despite being perfectly aware they’re bad. The simple truth is that there are few better recipes for successful comedy than failed drama, and on that level few can hope to match The Room in terms of unintentional hilarity. It didn’t take long for word to spread and for Wiseau’s movie to gain a level of infamy unseen since the likes of Troll 2.
Then, the Laemmle Theater capitalized on The Room’s unusual popularity. With two night-screenings every month, the Laemmle would show The Room in up to five theaters simultaneously, depending on how many people attended. The Laemmle has since closed, but the screenings continue, and the fans show up every time to enact the ritual that is viewing The Room, a grand tradition evocative of Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings — except whereas that film is genuinely beloved, fans of The Room are there to ridicule it.
They shout at the screen, talking back to the characters and mocking the glaring inconsistencies. They take a “seventh inning stretch” during the film’s third sex scene, leaving their seats and the theater until the several minutes of poorly shot lovemaking have concluded. The most ridiculous and celebrated custom involves hurling hundreds of plastic spoons at the screen every time a corresponding photograph appears in Johnny’s apartment (which happens about a dozen times). Anyone interested in checking out the screening is more or less required to go twice — once to learn all of the recurring jokes and again to act out the traditions for themselves.
And how does Tommy Wiseau feel about the status his film has attained? Just ask him. Tommy attends the majority of screenings in person, tossing around footballs with fans, high-fiving everyone and doing a Q & A in each theater before the main event. Just don’t go looking for enlightenment: Instead of shedding light on his origins, detailing what went on behind the scenes or explaining how exactly he spent $6 million on one of the cheapest looking movies released this century, he gives confusing and contradictory half-answers that shed zero light on any sort of specifics while making it abundantly clear that, yes, this is the man who made The Room a reality.
It’s a bizarre experience, to say the least, but as caustic as some of the insults toward the film can be, the entire affair has a pervading atmosphere of camaraderie and good intentions. Everyone gathers together to celebrate something, something that by all right should never have inspired this level of devotion. It just goes to show that there’s no telling how people will respond to a particular creation. And that artwork, be it cinematic or otherwise, will take on a life of its own as fans form their own miniature culture surrounding what they love.
A perfect embodiment of that phenomenon, The Room remains a strangely uplifting example. It’s a gleeful celebration of the ridiculous; a testament to how much enjoyment people can get out of something done with pure, naive or, in this case, hopelessly deficient intentions. There’s just nothing quite so fulfilling as a group of people coming together to share and experience something that they all enjoy — even if that thing happens to be astonishingly stupid. Fandom isn’t about the quality of the content so much as the quality of the community. The Room might be terrible, but its fans have made it into something great.
Michael Chasin is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies. His column “Fandomination” ran Fridays.