In Retrospect – The Room (2003)
This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised website that shows film in a wider context. Throughout January, The Big Picture has been running a series of articles on ‘bad but good’ movies. My focus is the ultimate ‘bad but good’ flick – Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
If cinema is an ‘escape’ from real life, then Tommy Wiseau’s cult calamity is a feature-length detachment from reality itself.
It’s unlikely there could ever be enough drugs in the world to fully comprehend a film that, for all intents and purposes, resembles something made by an alien trying to recreate about a hundred different types of movie junk spewed out across the celestial airwaves.
The cult infamy afforded what is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made has led to The Room gaining a second life that shows no signs of checking out. Indeed, the James Franco-led The Disaster Artist (based on Greg Sestero’s book about his experiences of working on the movie) has led to Wiseau’s work being embraced by the multiplex crowd.
The stories surrounding the film, and its enigmatic and eccentric writer/director are legion; not least of which the reported $6m budget that Wiseau apparently spent on the picture – a remarkable feat in so much as The Room resembles a movie made for about 0.5% of that cost.
The plot, what there is of it, centres on high-flying banker Johnny (Wiseau), who is due to marry the sociopathic Lisa (Juliette Danielle); however, Lisa has other ideas and pursues Johnny’s weak-willed best friend Mark (Sestero).
It’s difficult to know where to begin with The Room, although its mind-f***ing plot jumps, hilariously overwrought dialogue and insanely bad acting aren’t bad places to start.
We get not one, not two, but three veeeeery long sex scenes in the first 20 minutes, featuring plenty of Wiseau on display (in case you were wondering whether the film was a vanity project) alongside elaborate candelabra and water features that mysteriously disappear when the montages finally end. The R&B slow jams accompanying the rumpy-pumpy are comical enough, but the wildly OTT orgasmic sound effects are something else.
The film’s supporting cast are so wooden they make Steven Seagal look like Daniel Day-Lewis, none more so than the truly terrible Philip Haldiman as Denny, an orphan who Johnny has taken under his wing. When he’s not resembling a creepy serial killer we discover in one scene that Denny has a serious problem with drugs, a socially hard-hitting hot potato that gets forgotten about quicker than you can say “Oh, hi Denny!”.
Johnny may be cool with Denny’s later confession of love for Lisa, but our hero is distraught when his fiance truly starts messing him around. It’s difficult to know whether Wiseau is trying to paint his female lead as anything but evil incarnate, but needless to say the acting and dialogue aren’t selling it as much else.
When he’s not trying to channel Marlon Brando or James Dean (“You’re tearing me apaaaart, Lisa!”), Wiseau’s bizarre performance belongs on an American soap opera, pivoting from laughing inanity (oh boy, that laugh) to impersonations of chickens.
Just as Denny’s drug problems get cast aside in a heartbeat, so too does any definable logic. Conversations between characters that are emotive one moment veer off into goofiness the next, while scenes often look like they’ve been crowbarred in from other, equally terrible movies. As for all the spoons, who the hell knows what that’s about?
Having presumably watched too many life insurance adverts, Wiseau regularly features the guys playing catch, even having them all dressed up in tuxedos for some unfathomable reason. Likewise, the interplay between Lisa and her mother (Carolyn Minnott) spins on its head, throwing in dramatic revelations before moving on to something equally bonkers moments later.
That said, you never get the sense that any of the cast are winking at the audience, which only adds to the unintentional hilarity. Wiseau has spoken often of how he considers the film a black comedy, although this is no doubt a defence mechanism of a someone whose real ambition was to craft a dramatic chamber piece that Tennessee Williams would have been proud of.
Are there movies as bad as The Room? Most definitely yes. But whilst those flicks can often be made with a cynical heart, Wiseau’s unforgettable debut is the product of genuine artistic aspiration – however misguided.