When is good fun just plain mean?
The event of the month in Chicago for fans of really bad movies was the midnight screening last weekend of a new cult classic, "The Room," at the Music Box theater.
"The Room" is a "freakish mesh of incompetencies," in the words of Sun-Times film critic Bill Stamets. It's the unintended joke of a strange dude with an indecipherable accent, Tommy Wiseau, who is the film's producer, writer, director and star -- or, as he has described his character -- "the stud."
"The Room, first screened in Los Angeles in 2003, originally was billed as a serious film about a bank employee, Johnny, who is betrayed by his girlfriend and his best friend. But when critics mocked the movie, Wiseau and his marketing team repositioned it as an intentional "black comedy." It's not. It's just one of the worst commercially-released films ever, with wooden dialogue, horrible acting, plot lines that go nowhere and characters that come and go.
Now "The Room" is playing the midnight theater circuit, like "The Rocky Horror Show" and even "The Sound of Music," where the whole point for the audience is to openly mock and jeer what's up on the screen.
This can be fun when the film is "The Rocky Horror Show," which is supposed to be campy and silly, or when it's "The Sound of Music," a big fat corporate blockbuster with a celebrated soundtrack and plenty of sincere fans, even if the film hasn't aged especially well.
But "The Room"? Here we have something different. Here we have a small-budget film by a would-be serious artist, Wiseau, who honestly believed (and may still believe) that he had created something not just good, but profound. And when we, the fans of bad movies, showed up at the Music Box last weekend to revel in its incompetence, we actually were reveling in Wiseau's incompetence.
Which does not make me proud.
Adding to my squeamishness (I soon was sliding down in my eighth-row seat), Tommy Wiseau was there in person. He deflected the audience's mocking questions ("Tommy, why are you characters wearing tuxedos when they play football?") with a strangely misplaced laugh and a string of passive-aggressive non-answers (such as, to paraphrase: "Read the papers. There's your answer.")
Granted, Wiseau's making money on the movie, if not for any reason he intended. And he's semi-famous now, which seemed to delight him.
He reminded me of Rod Blagojevich -- happy to be famous, even if only for screwing up so publicly.
How sad for him.
And how sad for all of those snarky anti-fans, myself included for a night, who turn out to revel in his failure.