In my casual field research, I’ve noticed some patterns. Men who wish they didn’t have to be nice to me consistently love “American Psycho.” Every man I’ve been out with who’s had problems with drugs loves “The Big Lebowski.” I went out with two different guys who shared the belief that talented directors should be treated like gods — they both loved David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and Tony Scott’s “True Romance.” Sure, those are stereotypes. But in some cases, they ring true.
And I dated a man who really, really, really loved “The Room.” Then, as now, I had no idea what to think of him.
“The Room,” from 2003, is considered one of the worst movies ever made — it’s so notorious that James Franco made a movie about how it was created, called “The Disaster Artist,” which came out this month. The first time I saw “The Room,” he and I were on a long Oregon beach vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday. We both needed a getaway. I was working in a marketing department with an extremely dysfunctional boss; he was worn out by 12-hour days in the newsroom. We checked into a hotel room and put our phones into airplane mode, and he opened his messenger bag.
“I got the DVD in the mail today,” he said. “Wanna watch it?”
We did not touch or hold hands, but sat several feet apart, as though we were not dating or even intimate, but strangers who had happened upon the same video installation at an art museum.
It was one of the worst experiences of my life. Be aware: I think low-grade movies are fun to watch. They’re junk food, a couple of hours of kitsch. Every man I dated had a guilty pleasure movie, like “Love, Actually” or “Natural City,” the Korean knockoff of “Blade Runner.”
“The Room” is not a bad movie. It is the worst movie. It is hallucinogenic in its awfulness. Briefly, the movie is about a guy named Johnny whose best friend, Mark, sleeps with his girlfriend, Lisa. Her infidelity is abetted by everyone in Johnny’s life: her mother, her friends and even the dewy-eyed orphan next door. Johnny is left humiliated, betrayed and alone. It is a real bummer.
Whether it’s the robotic timing of the jokes, the transparent misery of the actors or the overpriced, unnatural sets, “The Room” does everything wrong. The female characters are good girls, wicked whores or scolds. Lisa, in particular, is written as devoid of compassion, a heartless gold digger who turns on her boyfriend without reason or warning. Although characters cope with heavy issues like drug addiction and breast cancer, those lines are treated like throwaways. It’s a series of unresolved plot holes. One choice exchange:
Lisa: Did you get your promotion?
Lisa: You didn’t get it, did you?
It even lacks self-awareness: There’s never a nod to the audience, offering reassurance that yes, writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau knows what he’s doing to us. It just goes on. And on. And on.
As the end credits rolled, I turned to the guy I was dating. I was probably in shock. He turned to me. I expected him to laugh, but to my horror, he asked, “Wanna watch it again?”
As time wore on, I learned more about why he liked “The Room.” He laughed at each of the wooden, unfunny jokes. He’d invented imaginary backstories for the characters. He had a theory that there were actually two Lisas in the movie, a good girl and an evil twin who slowly supplants her. He greeted me like Johnny did, with an atonal “Oh, hi.” He had gone to one of the many cult screenings of the movie and saw Tommy Wiseau in person.
I asked, “Don’t you think it’s kind of sad? Knowing that you’ve made something that is a punchline.”
“I don’t think it’s sad,” he said. “I think he’s a genius.”
Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” shows how Wiseau’s vision for “The Room,” however weird, carried the project to completion against the odds. This boyfriend of mine had one thing in common with Wiseau: a strange, flat inability to understand how he was perceived. “The Room” was not a bad movie, to this boyfriend. Over time, I saw that his enjoyment of it wasn’t ironic or tongue-in-cheek. He didn’t laugh at “The Room” memes. He lacked a sense of kitsch. Maybe he saw himself as Johnny, a sensitive guy whose friends take advantage of his goodness. Maybe he connected with the characters’ two-dimensional relationships. He sang me the songs from the soundtrack unironically, even plucked a few notes on his bass for me.
Of course, he was blindsided when I ended it. Like Johnny, he flew into a rage. I was his girlfriend, and girlfriends are supposed to act like girlfriends. Like a “future wife,” as the film calls a fiancee. He quoted Johnny’s line: “You are tearing me apart.” I couldn’t tell if I was the crazy one or he was. I walked away feeling disturbed, as though I’d repeated the experiment we tried at the beach, when we watched the movie over and over, until nothing made sense anymore.
The relationship ended, like most do, in disaster. The only thing I kept of his was that DVD. But I never have time to watch it — life’s too short to spend on movies, or boyfriends, that bad.