Date Night

20 Years Later, The Weirdest Movie Of The 2000s Is The Rocky Horror Of Our Generation

Why The Room is still the best so-bad-it’s-good movie of the naughty aughties.

The Room (2003)
TPW Films

On June 27th, 2003, a mysterious motion picture with a cast of unknowns and an inexplicable six million dollar budget called The Room debuted in Los Angeles’ Laemmle Fairfax and Fallbrook theaters. The film’s initial claim to fame was a viscerally unnerving billboard that just had a close-up photo of one face, Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, and star of this bizarre cult classic. Twenty years ago, The Room was an enigma. But today, it’s become The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a certain generation. For those who remember or those with a certain sense of humor, The Room is a perfect way to spend date night.

Of course, no rational person would try to claim The Room is a good film. That’s not why it’s fun to watch. Instead, The Room is a timelessly tacky classic — of the “so bad it’s good” variety like the Plan 9 From Outer Space, Dolemite, Miami Connection, and the films of Neil Breen. And the key element that makes it so watchable is its fundamental childishness. The reason why The Room is so fun to watch with other people is that it feels like the work of an extremely enthusiastic child who was given a modest sum of money to make their vision of the most entertaining movie of all time and created something utterly unique that poignantly and hilariously reflects their lack of understanding of film and the world works. Watching The Room means alone is weird. Watching The Room with someone else means you’re in on the joke.

Over the years, it’s unclear, however, if the person who made The Room was in on the joke. The mystery of Tommy Wiseau’s motivations in making the film persists, and it all goes back to that weird billboard: Who was this mysterious man? Where did he come from? Why did he think that a uniquely unflattering image of his face in mid-blink would make people want to see a movie with a no-star cast and a level of production values that would be unimpressive for a high school student film?

Over the next two decades, we would receive compelling answers to at least some of those questions through Greg Sestero (hi Mark) and Tom Bissell’s memoir, a page-turner of a best-seller about the making of The Room and the curious friendship of stars Wiseau and Sestero. The 2017 James Franco movie was based on this memoir, and is arguably, watched just as much as The Room itself.

Wiseau never could have anticipated what a robust afterlife his film would enjoy after its microscopic theatrical release, and he certainly could not have imagined that The Room would become arguably the biggest and most influential bad movie of the past quarter century. The Room is so infamous and ubiquitous that it has become a useful shorthand for a movie that’s so terrible that it’s great in the same way Plan 9 From Outer Space epitomized that kind of trash treasure for earlier generations. Sestero and Wiseau have been able to live off The Room’s worldwide popularity for two solid decades, doing endless midnight shows separately and together where they hammily oversee the campy spectacle of a live screening of The Room, something I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a handful of times.

Why is The Room so fun to watch? Probably because it’s so misguided in its over-the-top-chauvinism. The plot plays like a crazed, unintentional parody of the “Nice Guy” mindset that has been pilloried and eviscerated online, particularly on Reddit. In The Room, Wiseau’s tortured protagonist Johnny is the ultimate nice guy. He has a good job working with computers or something and treats his girlfriend like a queen and behaves as a loving father figure to Denny (Philip Haldiman), a weird urchin who pops up at random times to express interest in hooking up with Johnny’s girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Johnny even wants to marry Lisa. But, she’s portrayed as an evil succubus who cares only about money and guys who are conventionally hotter than Johnny. There’s also a lot of discussion about her supposedly hot red dress. Seriously, words cannot convey just how hot the red dress at the center of the film is. You’ll just have to take all of the characters’ word for it. There is no subtext in The Room.

The characters all say exactly what’s on their mind the same way a small child without a filter might. As is often the case in adorably amateurish endeavors, everyone speaks in the same voice here. It’s Wiseau’s voice as a writer and an actor. That voice is one of a child who poignantly and tragically thinks that the world will be fair and make sense. They could not be more wrong. The Room’s stratospheric rise to the top of the all-time-stinkers heap was helped along by a Bad MovieSphere descended from the Medved Brothers’ The Golden Turkey Awards and Mystery Science Theater 3000 that found voluminous laughter in mocking/celebrating the very worst life and cinema have to offer.

Wiseau’s warped brainchild flourished online in YouTube super-cuts collecting its nuttiest and most quotable moments and memes that de-contextualize the movie’s non-stop parade of iconic moments, most notably an anguished Johnny screaming, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” But, The Room flourished IRL as well.

Seeing The Room has become a communal, celebratory experience with its own code of customs and rituals as well as a series of props to accompany the film’s action. Wiseau’s warped vanity project was seemingly made for no one but its creator. Yet it has gone on to become a bona fide piece of cinematic and pop culture history. And, just like The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the 1970s, The Room is not going away anytime soon. But, the best thing to do right now isn’t to watch those YouTube supercuts but to actually set some time aside and watch the movie. If you want to improve the quality of your life, being able to say “oh hai Mark” and have someone else get it, might be the greatest gift The Room ever gave us. In the end, it’s not tearing us apart at all. Somehow, The Room brings us together.

Where to watch The Room (2003)

Hilariously, it’s very difficult to track down The Room streaming online. Your best bet? Try to find a local theater playing it. It’s often playing at various theaters around the country. Really! As of right now, there is a Room “celebration” happening with Fathom Events around the country. Check it out here.