The Room is a hard movie to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it. The plot seems simple to sum up; a mans fiance falls out of love with him and begins an affair with his best friend ultimately leading to tragedy. However, if you watch it you’ll realize that describing The Room with that sentence is like describing The Tree of Life as a movie about a family in Texas. The plot of The Room meanders and at times disappears completely, the acting varies from atrocious to merely bad, the dialogue is bad, the cinematography is uninspired, and there is some truly bad green screen. I’ve seen it with friends who have left in the middle to go do something else, and a few people have told me that they can’t understand why I would watch it. The Room is often described as the worst movie ever made or the best worst movie, and yet I find myself watching it over and over.
I’ve seen The Room more than any other movie, or at least more than I can remember seeing any other movie. I’ve seen it alone on a laptop, with friends on a TV, and in theaters on the screen. It’s a movie I find myself returning to constantly and thinking about at random moments. It’s because of that I find it hard to mark The Room down as simply a “bad movie”. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I watch it because I genuinely enjoy the experience, even removed from the social aspect of watching it with friends or in a theater where people yell out lines and jeer. I find something new to think about or analyze every time I see it. I have impassioned discussions with my other friends who enjoy the movie where we talk about The Room and I’ve had more than a couple of conversations with people about it at parties. Maybe all this means is that I have way too much affection towards what amounts to a poorly made movie and yet I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more too it than that. Maybe I don’t think that The Room is “so bad it’s good”, maybe I just think that it’s only good.
It’s not hard to explain to people why I think The Room is a good movie,I essentially laid it out in the previous paragraph. I find new things to think about in every viewing, it’s memorable, it provokes discussion with people, and at it’s most basic level I just plain like it and enjoy watching it. No, for me the more interesting question isn’t why is The Room good, it’s why isn’t The Room bad?
It’s an interesting question because it forces me to think about what makes a movie, any movie, bad? Some people view bad as the absence of good, I disagree. I find that when a movie lacks anything good it is far more likely to be mediocre and forgettable rather than bad. It’s a fine line, and one that I think is quite blurry but for me a mediocre movie doesn’t make me feel anything while a bad one causes a visceral emotional reaction. I thought Thor: The Dark World was mediocre and I thought Suicide Squad was bad. I thought this about those movies because when I left the theater after Thor I couldn’t and still can’t remember what happened in it, and when I think about or talk about Suicide Squad I still strongly feel distaste towards it.
So if a lack of good isn’t what makes a movie bad, than what is it? I don’t think that it’s the opposite of good either, there are plenty of movies that I think aren’t rewatchable, or enjoyable to watch that I wouldn’t call bad, and some I would even call good. I don’t think there is an objective way to categorize a movie as good or bad. Going by a critical consensus will inevitably cause you to come into conflict with the consensus, I didn’t like The Grand Budapest Hotel and think it’s Wes Anderson’s worst movie despite the consensus being the other way. People will point to plot holes and other nitpicking gotcha aspects in an attempt to prove a film is bad due to logic and reason. They’ll point to things like the 180 degree rule and say that if a movie breaks this rule it is bad. I disagree with this there are many films that break every rule of film making or screenwriting that are phenomenal. There are films that are abstract, movies that deal in dream logic or even no logic at all, some that have no interest in narrative or even in being a movie. Is it right to judge films that don’t aspire to conform to our definition of a movie the same way we judge a blockbuster movie?
There is no objective way to judge a film because there is no objective way to view a film. Each one of us has to navigate each film without a set of criteria to help guide us. All we have to go on are our experiences, our biases, our cultural background, the ideas, mores, and emotions that have shaped us as people working subconsciously to shape our view on a film. I think that’s why I feel so strongly about this because to me how I feel about a movies says as much about myself as it does the film, and I suspect the same is true for most people. So for me to say why a movie is bad is to say why I think that I think that a movie is bad, and I think I’ve figured it out.
A bad movie makes me angry. Not at the story being told on-screen, but at the film itself. I’m not saying that means that if your remember your watching a movie its a bad movies, some of the best movies deliberately break your immersion and point out that what you’re watching is a film. No, what I mean is that the film provokes anger outside of the context that the film presents. If you get angry at a character making a wrong choice in a movie that is result of the narrative the film presents. However if you’re watching a movie and you begin to feel anger towards the film itself well you might just be watching a bad movie. Only a few movies have ever made me feel this way, a select group of movies that were incomprehensible, offensive, or took something that shaped me and made a mockery of it. The rest of the films I haven’t enjoyed fall into the aforementioned mediocre category or a category of films that can best be described as “not good”, that is to say movies that are memorable, and yet can’t be said to be either good or bad because they didn’t provoke a strong emotion.
This means fundamentally that for a film to be good it must cause us to feel something. Whether that be joy or sadness, a good movie makes you feel something within the context of the film. This is why I think The Room is a good movie because within the world that the film presents I feel joy, it makes me happy. It’s far too rare a movie that can do that, and even rarer the film that can do it over and over again. Maybe you don’t agree with me and you watch The Room and think it is a bad movie. Maybe you think that all I’ve written makes no sense and maybe that’s true. In the end this is only how I feel. Watch as many movies as you can, watch movies that have been critically panned and praised, movies that are abstract or arty, movies that are mainstream and experimental, and find what makes you like or dislike a movie. Maybe you’ll learn a little bit about yourself as well.