The Room (2003)
I consider myself to be a connoisseur of crappy cinema, thanks in large part to growing up on the fabulous TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000. To me, truly bad movies can be just as enjoyable to witness as great, competent works of filmic art. So imagine my surprise when it I had never heard of a little flick called The Room until a month ago. I was reading an Entertainment Weekly article about this tiny 2003 movie that has developed a rabid cult following. I felt betrayed. How did I go five years without ever hearing about this movie? The Room is writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus. It must be seen to be fully believed.
To watch The Room is truly a life-altering experience. This movie goes beyond bad. It’s so bad that it almost seems like Wiseau is a mad genius. This movie is bad on multiple levels and hooks you from the beginning, instantly daring the audience to stick around to see if it gets worse. And it does in the most wonderful ways. If I was stranded on a deserted island and could only bring five movies, right now The Room would be one of them (I may even be tempted to just bring five copies of this movie). Wiseau’s film cannot displace Manos: The Hands of Fate as the worst film of all time, but The Room easily belongs in the upper echelon of craptacular cinema among the likes of The Land of Faraway and Lady Terminator and Bulletproof Monk. I am simultaneously appalled, bewildered, fascinated, delighted, and comforted by this movie, comforted by the fact that something this singularly inept could still sneak through the system. But this film is so perfectly inept on a multitude of levels that it feels like it could never be recreated again, like the human race benefited from this chance artistic encounter. The only way I can fully describe my unhealthy appreciation for this cinematic slice of the absurd is to simply list off my list of loves.
1) The film’s plot involves a love triangle with the three least personable people imaginable. Johnny (Wiseau) is a broad shouldered, marble-mouth Austrian who supposedly works at a bank, we’re told. Lisa (Juliette Danielle) stays in their apartment doing very little, though she says that she shouldn’t have gotten into the computer business because it’s “too competitive.” Lisa declares in damn near every scene that after five years together (though the characters say seven at the end of the film) she no longer loves Johnny. She now loves Mark (Greg Sestero), Johnny’s best friend. And if you forget that key point then Mark will assist you because one third of his dialogue is declarations of “Johnny’s my best friend.” Another third of his dialogue might as well be, “What are you doing?” Mark is one of the thickest dolts in history. Even after Lisa has sex with him twice, calls him repeatedly, and leads him to places where they can be alone and intimate, he looks at her dumbfounded and says, “What are you doing?” like a kid who will never comprehend that 2 + 2 = 4. This is the basis of the plot and yet so much of the movie is gloriously repetitive and involves characters sitting around, saying the same things over, without ever really advancing the plot.
2) The Room hooks you from the start, and it’s all thanks to the weird neighbor kid/surrogate son Denny (Philip Haldiman). This supposed student is an orphan that Johnny has taken a shine to; Denny has his rent and tuition generously paid for by Johnny. In the very opening scene Johnny gives Lisa a slinky red dress as a gift. She tries it on and both Denny and Johnny make favorable remarks. Johnny says he’s a bit tired and leads Lisa by the hand up the stairs. The camera stays on Denny, who, instead of taking the hint and leaving, remains standing, grabs an apple, takes a bite out of it, then slowly walks up the stairs after the amorous couple. He then hops on their bed and joins in on their pillow fight foreplay. The characters have to literally spell it out to the guy that they want some privacy for sex. “I know, I just like to watch you guys,” Denny responds. What? Denny confesses to Johnny about experiencing weird feelings for Lisa. This kid is supposed to be in college but he acts like he’s developmentally challenged. A friend has a theory that Denny has a confusing gay crush on Johnny, but I believe that would be way more deep and subtle than the movie seems capable of.
3) The movie is littered with subplots that come out of nowhere and never resurface again. All of a sudden Lisa’s materialistic mother (Carolyn Minnott) announces she has breast cancer. This is never commented upon again. All of a sudden Denny is confronted by an angry drug dealer who wants his money, which means he’s also the world’s worst drug dealer if he’s willing to give out drugs on credit. The characters all collect on the roof and yell. This is never commented upon again. Lisa makes up a story that Johnny hit her. He publicly denies it. This is never dealt with again in any capacity. Lisa lies to Johnny that she’s pregnant, just to “make things interesting.” Her rationale is that they’ll eventually start trying to have a baby anyway, which conflicts with her frequent statements that she doesn’t love Johnny and wants to leave. This fake baby is never commented upon again. About thirty minutes into the movie, another couple sneaks into Johnny’s apartment to have sex. Why I cannot fathom. When Lisa and her mother intrude upon this scene, the mother asks astutely, “Who are these characters?” Exactly madam. The movie keeps going over the same material because nothing new ever sticks.
4) The line readings are astoundingly inauthentic. Half of the film seems to be dubbed, especially Johnny’s lines. Much of the dubbed dialogue fails to match up with the actor’s mouth movements. There is one sequence in a flower shop that is nothing but dubbed dialogue and it happens so quick. The scene itself lasts like 10 seconds but it still manages to squeeze in this entire conversation: “Oh hey Johnny, I didn’t see you there.” “Yep, it’s me.” “Here are the flowers you wanted.” “How much?” “18 dollars.” “Here ya go. Keep the change. Hi doggy.” “You’re my favorite customer, Johnny.” “Byeee.” It happens so rapidly with so little breath in between. Wiseau’s quick changes in temperament with consecutive lines will amaze you. He goes directly from, “I did not hit her! I did not! I did naaaaaaaut,” to a very casual, “Oh hey, Mark,” in a nano-second flat. The speech patterns rarely approach realistic human cadences.
5) Lisa is routinely told by the several male characters that she is exceptionally beautiful and lovely, but this woman’s personality is like a dead plant. Danielle is a fine enough looking woman, though the hair and makeup people do her no help with those thick eyebrows, but as a beauty that could manipulate multiple men? I don’t think so. Danielle has a bit of a tummy to her, which is fine by my standards of beauty, but from a Hollywood perspective a woman that lacks a concave stomach is considered “fat.” Lisa’s friend Michelle (Robyn Paris) is in fact a more attractive female and might have served as a better Lisa. I think perhaps Danielle was willing to do nudity and Paris was not, but really, if you’re a struggling L.A. actor and you’re willing to agree to be apart of something like The Room, surely you’ve already ignored any internal misgivings. What possible hang-ups could there be left?
6) The film is structured like the soft-core porn that dot the late hours of premium cable channels. There are four lengthy sex scenes in the first hour, though one of them is composed almost entirely with recycled footage from the first bout of lovemaking between Lisa and Johnny. The sex scenes are deeply un-erotic and consist of several camera angles that make it impossible to see what is actually happening. There is nothing sexy about watching Wiseau’s pasty posterior humping the hips of Danielle (seriously, the body alignments are way off here). When Lisa and Mark have sex on top of a spiral staircase, Wisuea can barely frame the action coherently. Why would anyone want to have sex on a spiral staircase? That’s just asking for chronic back pain. Mark fails to even take his pants off. For such lengthy sex scenes, Wiseau does so little with the talent on display. What makes all the sex scenes even better is that they each get a wretched pop song as a soundtrack. It’s all mid 1990s R&B with some growling sex guitar, and it’s all awful. There’s one song that repeats the phrase “you are my rose” like nine times in a row. If you fail to cringe and howl from the sex scenes then the songs ought to do it.
7) Wiseau makes the most mysterious decisions as an artist. He sticks to a minimum of locations and one of them happens to be the roof of Johnny’s apartment complex. The sensible thing would be to film on an actual roof. Wiseau decided to film on a roof set and use an ineffective green screen backdrop that makes San Francisco look like it inherited Los Angeles’ smog. The film keeps cutting back to exterior stock footage of the city that signifies the passage of hours, a day, or no time whatsoever. When Denny is confronted on the same rooftop about his sudden drug disclosure, Lisa berates him. As she cries and shrieks and overacts, you cannot see it because Wiseau’s camera has cut her facial reactions out of frame. The scene cuts back and forth between Denny facing the camera and the left side of Lisa’s head. At another point Lisa is talking about her cheating ways with her pal Michelle, who seems way too giggly to be disapproving. During this scene Lisa has angled her body in such a manner that when she speaks it appears like a subcutaneous alien is about to burst forth from beneath her neck. Wiseau did not catch this unnerving and distracting sight. The film’s lone idea of male bonding involves tossing a football together. So Mark and Johnny will go out running in a park and toss a football back and forth, all the while having a faint conversation that gets drowned out by an overly anxious score. There will be swaths of the film where the score just competes with the onscreen dialogue.
8) There’s like a whole other level of offhand dialogue throughout, where characters will stand around and Johnny or someone else will mumble to no one in particular. The actual dialogue is full of other memorable head-scratchers, such as:
Random disapproving guy to Mark: “Keep your stupid comments in your pockets!”
Same disapproving man: “It feels like I’m sitting on an atom bomb that is going to explode!”
Michelle using chocolate candies as a means of foreplay: “Chocolate is a sign of love.”
Lisa’s mother: “Nobody ever listens to me.”
Lisa: “You’re probably right about that, mom.”
Johnny’s profound wisdom: “You know, if more people love each other the world would be a better place.”
Johnny refers to someone as a chicken and then proceeds to make this accompanying sound: “Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheeeaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiip.” This bizarre chicken impression will be repeated no less than three times.
Mark: How was work today?
Johnny: Oh pretty good. We got a new client… at the bank. We make a lot of money.
Mark: What client?
Johnny: I cannot tell you. It’s confidential.
Mark: Oh come on. Why not?
Johnny: No I can’t. Anyway, how is your sex life?
And finally, the signature line, where Johnny has had enough of Lisa’s mental games and he roars, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”
I could keep citing further evidence of The Room‘s cinematic shortcomings, but listing the faults of one of the worst films ever made can be pointless after a while. The staggering amount of faults in Wiseau’s film is also its combined strength. Most bad movies have a finite level of badness, like a poor plot or some troublesome acting. The Room is a movie composed of nothing but 99 complete minutes of badness at every facet of filmmaking. I am a more complete person having seen this remarkable film. I highly recommend gathering a group of friends around and holding a viewing party; the movie plays to even higher levels of enjoyment with a group atmosphere. The Room is Tommy Wiseau’s accidental masterpiece and, to me, proof that a loving God exists.
Artistic Merit: F
Entertainment Value: A+