I’ve always hated the concept of cultural “guilty pleasures.” I don’t understand why anyone should be ashamed of liking things just because society (or writers) say they’re “lame” or “bad.” I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I (un-ironically) enjoy listening to One Direction and the Jonas Brothers once in a while. They’re talented.
One seemingly universal guilty pleasure is 2003 indie dramedy The Room. “Guilty pleasure” may be an overstatement, though—the film’s cult-status isn’t much of a secret. Despite countless scathing reviews, The Room has managed to garner an inexplainable following complete with midnight movie screenings all over the country.
As a weird, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower-loving teen, I’ve been to my fair share of The Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screenings. Though I don’t dig them as much as I used to (um, hard pass on being touched by strangers and getting rice in my hair), I admire the fanaticism surrounding the film. The “Sensual Daydreams” cast is excellent, the dedicated die-hard fans have impressive costumes, and, of course, seeing movies at midnight is always a good time.
Last month, the Oriental Theatre hosted a midnight screening of The Room in anticipation of upcoming Room-ception The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s film about the film. I’d only heard about The Room in passing from friends and coworkers, and understood the film was famed for being one of the worst movies ever made. I figured the December midnight screening was a perfect opportunity to see the The Room for the first time, regardless of the potential Rocky Horror-esque audience participation.
I had a sneaking suspicion the screening would draw a sizeable crowd, so I purchased my tickets at 4 p.m. to ensure my spot. When I arrived at 11:45, the Oriental’s lobby was packed. The crowd was mostly twenty- and thirty-something gawky looking white guys—you know, the type who religiously read The A.V. Club and love Modest Mouse. (Disclaimer: I also religiously read The A.V. Club.) My body was overcome with dread as I scanned the crowd. I was starting to think I would hate this experience.
When the clock struck twelve, the Roomies began to file in the theater. I knew I would need to take notes on my phone, so I sat in the last row to avoid looking like an asshole movie-texter. Even though I was in the back of the theater, the action wasn’t far away. Audience members were cheering and yelling things I didn’t understand long before the movie started.
Finally, following a mildly homoerotic underwear commercial featuring The Room’s director/writer/producer/star Tommy Wiseau, the film began. The audience went fucking nuts, roaring every time a different cast member’s name appeared onscreen. I anticipated there would be a little audience engagement, but I wasn’t prepared for Rocky Horror-style antics.
A few minutes in, The Room’s signature audience participation ritual began. At random times throughout the film, audience members began throwing plastic spoons all over the theater. I was confused at first, and had to ask my friend why people kept chucking them into the air. She pointed out the (what should be) obvious: the picture frames in the living room all display plastic spoons. I guess I was too fixated on the lively audience to notice that small but crucial detail. Oops! As the film progressed, the jeering began to make more sense. Audience members would scream at the screen about incoherent plot points (“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CANCER?”) and set discrepancies (“WHERE’S THE DOORFRAME?”).
As a first-time viewer, the movie was pretty hard to follow with all the yelling and spoon-throwing. Some notes I took include: “Literally how many sex scenes are in this movie,” and “Unzip pants.” (I have no idea what the context to the latter was.) The five (I think? I lost count after the third) sex scenes were painfully cringe-worthy, and the football tossing scenes even more so. My favorite scene was easily Danny’s drug-bust with Lisa and Lisa’s cancerous mother. (I don’t want to spoil the film for any intrigued potential viewers, so I’ll end the plot details there. You’re welcome.)
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not even remotely cultured in film, especially compared to the Oriental’s regular visitors. As someone who almost exclusively watches God-awful television (Glee, Degrassi: The Next Generation, cancelled-after-one-season-because-it-was-so-fucking-bad Netflix original series Girl Boss), I wasn’t really put off by the movie’s terrible acting, inconsistent plot lines, and cheap sets. In fact, the movie even has a six-line plot line that Glee borrowed: a fake pregnancy. Honestly, “The Room” isn’t far off from what I genuinely enjoy: utter and complete cultural garbage.
That being said, I still can’t understand how much of this movie’s adoration is ironic. I’ve been front row at a Smash Mouth concert and purchased a Bee Movie DVD this afternoon (seriously). I know better than anyone that the lines of irony are eternally blurry. Even though I think “guilty pleasures” are dumb, it’s hard to deny even renowned cultural touchstones like Sex And The City are pretty bad (albeit deliciously campy). I couldn’t help but wonder if the Oriental was packed with people who love The Room in a post-modern, pseudo-ironic way, or if it’s a dreadful film that people genuinely enjoy.
I’ve watched The Room two more times since Saturday night. It’s certainly terrible, but perhaps it’s also terribly good. The movie has a weird appeal I can’t explain or understand. I enjoyed the screening, screaming, spoon-throwing and all. I really don’t know why.
As Ghost World’s Enid Coleslaw once said, “This is so bad it’s gone past good and went back to bad again.” The Room is stuck somewhere in between. Hopefully the North Avenue Whole Foods location has enough $4 boxes of plastic spoons for the January screening. I want to come prepared next time.