I have been meaning to do a review of The Room for a while. I’d been hearing mentions of it here and there but nothing about it stuck out to me as something I needed to see. Word was, it was a particularly awful melodrama. I didn’t really know anyone who had caught whiff of its awful scent until Todd Rigney’s capsule review popped up over at The Film Fiend. I was pretty much locked in when Tenebrous Kate’s high-larious review popped up. The picture, a left coast midnight hit, didn’t start gaining national traction until it was featured as part of Adult Swim’s 2009 April Fool’s prank. If you want to gauge the pulse of the midnight movie scene, keep an eye on Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of The Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! These guys are championing this movement, which up to this point, I was pretty sure was dying animal but the sudden popularity of The Room has given the Midnight scene a little bit of life and now that Tim and Eric are out there championing the equally as insane horror picture, Birdemic, you can expect a little more movement in those circles.
As I tend to do, I’ll lay out the pieces and diagram this bitch but what you need to know about The Room is one fundamental piece of the puzzle. It’s a vague one but important: You want to see this movie. The poster, an ominous looking close up shot of one-man-show writer, producer, director, actor, Tommy Wiseau, coupled with its ambiguous title suggests absolutely nothing about the movie but most importantly, there is nothing about it that communicates what waits for you within its roughly 90 minute running time. Let me clear away the uncertainty: Madness. Madness awaits you.
Johnny is this dude. He has a girlfriend named Lisa, a best friend with a beard named Mark and his ward/sidekick manchild, Denny. Johnny is a nice guy. Lisa is a self destructive psychopath. Mark is conflicted. Denny is borderline retarded. On the sidelines are Lisa’s horny friends Mike and Michelle. Lisa is bored with Johnny, she thinks he’s boring and she confides this in just about everyone except for Johnny who is blissfully unaware and seemingly spends all of his free time naked with Lisa, showering her with rose petals while they have sex. Meanwhile, Lisa is fucking Mark who is constantly reminding her that he’s not comfortable with running around behind Johnny’s back. There are a shitload of subplots that never amount to anything but really this movie is about Johnny, Lisa, Mark and smooth, smooth slow jams.
Bagging on the ultra-hammy script is a foregone conclusion. To make fun of the plot is just too easy and entirely unfair. It’s not even the most offensive part of the movie! If I had to analogize The Room to anything, it’s probably closest in principle to a Wesley Willis song. Wiseau has no business making movies but he seems to enjoy himself and I guess that’s all that matters. What makes The Room such a hot cult item, however, is an ceaseless parade of really bad ideas. Every single component of this project is terrible and incomprehensible. The main plot about Johnny, Mark and Lisa is a twenty minute affair padded out with subplots about Lisa’s mother, her financial woes and her impending doom by way of breast cancer. There’s also an angle introduced about Denny, a grown-ass man in college with the behavioral qualities of 14 year old, and his tangles with a drug dealer. To add a little comic relief to the mix, there’s a recurring situation about Lisa and her mother walking in on Lisa’s friends having sex and one of them leaving their underwear behind. Yet, as these threads are introduced, they’re immediately forgotten but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, they’re all just exhibits in Wiseau’s museum.
I really don’t know if I have enough space to point out what makes this movie so crazy but every little detail about the movie seems to suggest some kind of insane, Monty Python style comedy at work. Dialog is delivered in the strangest ways. Wiseau, clearly not an actor, rattles off his lines while moving from a flat affect to hysterical, wild gesturing and yelling evident in everyone’s favorite scene, “LISA, YOU ARE TEARING ME APART!!” It doesn’t help at all that Wiseau seems to struggle with English as a second language and no one on set seems to want to say the lines they’re given. To fuel the fire there are four extremely unsettling and extended sex scenes prominently featuring Wiseau’s roughly chiseled ass pumping away, a metric shit-ton of rose petals and the cheesiest R&B slow jams I’ve ever heard.
Set in San Francisco and produced in 2003, The Room seems to have this ship in a bottle quality to it that seems like the essence of Full House was captured for all time. Though nothing about the film is directly anachronistic, there’s a tone throughout that suggests that Wiseau and his cast are stuck in this Groundhog Day style time loop on any given summer day in 1990. Fashion all seems a little bit off. Home decor has a distinctly shopping mall vogue about it where nothing is of personal inflection. Everything about Johnny and Lisa’s home seems like it was bought only days before at Filene’s Basement and that music! The entire film is soundtracked with studio outtakes from a Boyz II Men album rerecorded by marginally talented session musicians.
The Room is also home to many, many glaringly obvious continuity errors and when I notice them, you know you done fucked up because I miss that shit all the time.
Though it sounds like I’m ragging on this movie, it’s most insane quality is how much everyone, me included, likes it. We live in a time where the b-movie is quickly becoming extinct and thanks to film revivalists like Eli Roth and Tarantino, more and more people every day are going out of their way to make deliberately cheesy movies in an attempt to engineer that midnight quality. What they seem to forget is that what makes a movie a b-movie is an unintentional set of faults. You just can’t put that sort of magic in a bottle, it has to be found by accident and Wiseau has done that with the greatest of ease. These days he makes the rounds spinning the mockery so that it looks as though he intended the movie to come out this way, his cast and crew insists that this was a straight faced production from start to finish and everyone involved from the crew on down to the viewer is left scratching their head wondering what Wiseau thought he was doing. What’s most reassuring about this product is that Tommy is out on the road with The Room all the time embracing the cult status and encouraging the fans of his misguided vanity project to have a laugh and enjoy themselves. Though it’s clear that it meant a lot to him, he could have easily misunderstood the laughter.
Spirit is infectious and while Wiseau began this production in order to fulfill his fantasy of producing a movie, a very serious one, akin to something like Death of a Salesman the end result hits the screen like Breakin’ 2 with a script by a very high David Mamet. Johnny spends the entire movie getting kicked in the balls by all of his friends and in spite of its dead serious tone, it begins with giggles and ends with peals of hysterical, roaring laughter, in spite of its incredibly downbeat ending. It’s a film so fucking crazy that not even the fourth wall can contain its insanity. The Room is compelled by a madness so strong that it leaks into the real world, capturing imaginations and building a new cult that hasn’t been seen since The Rocky Horror Picture show. Taken apart and diagrammed like this, it’s difficult to see the bigger picture. You are hereby encouraged to experience The Room for yourself. Only then can see the true face of Tommy Wiseau.