General guidelines state that a sign of a great film is that you notice something new each time you watch it. They also state that a sign of a bad film is that the characters constantly use each other’s name in casual conversation. Oddly enough, I’ve found a film that exhibits both of those properties. It is, quite possibly, the most resoundingly amazing, bitterly awful movie in existence. I give you Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room.”
It bears noting that this movie was originally promoted as a drama, but critical pan after critical pan led to it being repackaged as a “black comedy.” I believe in this case, “black comedy” refers to “dark comedy,” and not, you know, “black comedy.” In any event, the movie was re-wrapped and re-pitched. There is an element of horror
in this movie, but only in the non-traditional sense. The only butchering that goes on is a brutal slaying of all of the tenets of quality cinematography, dialogue, and purpose.
This entire project would not have happened without the plastic man-dragon known as Tommy Wiseau. Visually, he is the worst case scenario of a love child between Yngwie Malmsteen and Robocop. He not only wrote, produced and directed the film, but bankrolled the entire project, and to this day pays for its midnight showings in theatres on the West Coast. I can only assume that he is independently wealthy, though I have no idea how that could be possible. Perhaps he is like Uwe Boll, and his friends simply use his movie as a tax shelter? The internet is scant on these details.
At first glance, the movie seems just to be another poorly acted drama, but it quickly unfolds into something more. For starters, this is one of the few movies I have ever seen that seems more like a theatre performance than an actual motion picture. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, it just is. It’s not long into the film that we are introduced to Johnny, played by our one-man band Tommy Wiseau. His accent is difficult to place, and the man himself will only admit that he’s European. Personally, I believe him to be Danish, as his accent bears some similarity to that of King Diamond, but I have no factual basis for this.
Johnny lives and works in San Francisco, which the movie never at any point lets you forget. The recurrence of panoramic views from that city is like people dancing on the Spanish channel. If you tune in at any random point, there’s a solid chance it’s what you’re going to see. (The humor in this comes much later, when in the rooftop scenes, the skyline that’s chroma keyed in the background is NOT San Francisco.)
Johnny lives with his girlfriend Lisa, who has eyebrows to rival Andy Rooney, and arms to take on Brian Urlacher. Okay, the Rooney comparison is a tiny stretch, but the Urlacher one is not. This is where the movie begins to take off, as the first scene is but a taste of the awkward, ill-fitting, dartboard dialogue to follow. Worth paying attention to is that Tommy’s script attempts to demonstrate his mastery of colloquialisms, with the exception that none of them are used appropriately. For example, Lisa tells Johnny “I’m going to bed now,” to which Johnny replies “Don’t worry about it.” It’s almost like the Zero Wing “all your base,” skit, but it takes place in San Francisco.
Immediately, Johnny and Lisa are accosted by Denny, who is both the movie’s de facto rallying point, and most confusing character. Denny’s entire role and existence is nebulous. He is a man-child of bizarre motivations, ranging from the innocence of borrowing a cup of sugar to the sublime perversity of telling Johnny and Lisa “I like to watch you guys.” I’ve come to realize that the entire Denny character could be removed with little impact on the overall movie. He serves merely as a vehicle to demonstrate Johnny’s alleged compassion for others. Denny’s one scene of consequence, with the drug dealer on the roof, ends up also having no bearing whatsoever, except to demonstrate that there is a roof on the building. Sidebar: the gentleman playing the drug dealer for three minutes is the most convincing actor in the film.
Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Following Denny’s visit, Johnny and Lisa immediately make awkward and shameful love. Take notes, there’s a quiz on this scene later. The entire scene is wrapped up in the first of a handful of songs that sound like a hobo’s version of Boyz II Men. The lyrics are hysterically melodramatic and sophomoric. This coming from a man who owns two GWAR albums.
It’s not long before Lisa makes a phone call to Mark, who is evidently Johnny’s best friend. Don’t worry, the movie never lets you forget that, either. Anyway, following more painful dialogue, Lisa and Mark make love on a staircase, to more absurd music, and at one point, the cinematography leads you to believe Mark might be suspended from the ceiling.
Shortly following this, Johnny returns, Lisa gets him drunk on a horrid, lose-a-bet-awful combination of whiskey and vodka, Johnny casually drops his glass which shatters into a billion pieces, and I hope you took notes, because here comes the same exact love scene from before. Repeated. Nearly shot for shot.
With that, I won’t give any more away. Find this movie. You owe it to yourself. It transcends merely being bad. To steal a quote from the Chicago Times about the city’s drainage system, “It is sublime in the magnitude of odiousness.” Don’t just watch it once. Watch it a handful of times, watch it with your friends, absorb every ill-begotten cell of the film. Take in the bizarre football scenes, the tuxedos that have no chronological place in the movie, the twisted timeline, the strange dialogue, the wooden characters, the sub plots with no relevance to the main plot. Marvel at Tommy Wiseau’s mundane/sleepy-eyed/confused delivery of every line, at diseases that are mentioned and never return, at the odd brevity of everyone’s visits to the apartment, at the mention of atomic devices. Become part of the odd subculture that surrounds this movie, the anti-hype surrounding the continued midnight showings, the throwing of spoons, the lack of elucidation.
And when it’s done, just when you think you’ve gotten it all, go to the DVD menu and watch the interview with Tommy Wiseau. I leave you with a single excerpt of that interview:
Q: Is “The Room” for everyone?
A: Absolutely not. [Pause] I would recommend that all Americans should see “The Room.” And see it at least twice [pause] because you don't get it the first time.