Awfully Great Films – The Room
“The Room…yeah The Room, ever heard of it?”
Yeah, it’s great to watch a great movie, one with incredible storytelling, great acting, and wonderful technical skill. There’s also something to be said for watching an absolutely awful film, one so bad that you shake your head in disbelief as your laughing at the unintentional humor. In an ongoing series, I’ll explore my favorite awfully great movies and what makes them horribly awesome.
“What the heck is The Room?” That’s what I would ask every time I would see the billboard as I drove through Hollywood. It was pretty stark: a black and white picture of a lazy eyed man with long hair on one side, the title on the other. In smaller type were the credits, and at the top of the sign, the words “Now Playing”. And more than the creepy face that stared down at me, those two words were what confused me. I had first seen that billboard back in 2003, and here it was, 2009, and those words were still there. How could this movie be now playing? Don’t movies appear for a few weeks only to disappear onto DVD? And there it was. The first mystery that is The Room, one of the most awfully great movies ever made.
It wasn’t until the end of last year that I finally solved that mystery while watching the news. Turns out, the movie had been playing at a theater in Hollywood since I first saw the billboard, the last Saturday of every month at midnight. The mad “genius” behind it was the man on the billboard, Mr. Tommy Wiseau. And now, this movie that had been a mystery to me had become a full-blown cult classic. Why? As the reporter described it, this film was an absolute mess, filled with horrible dialogue, even worse acting, bad sets, horrible lighting…well, you name it. It was bad, real bad. I’m a connoisseur of bad movies, and I can smell a classic from a mile away. Oh yeah, I knew at that moment I’d be at the next screening.
I had been told that there would be a line, but when I arrived at the theater, I was confronted with a snaking mass worthy of a new ride opening at Disneyland. I don’t usually use terms like this, but there was a buzz in the air, an excitement I hadn’t seen at a movie screening since I saw the first Batman back in 1989. I took my place towards the front of the line with a friend who had arrived hours earlier, and looked over to the person next to me, who was holding a giant paper spoon. Others in line held boxes of plastic spoons. What was with the spoons? And why was a group of young hipsters running around throwing a football to each other underhanded? What was going on here? Before I could get answers to those questions, a roar went up from the downstairs courtyard. The crowd split open and there he was: the long flowing mass of jet-black hair that is Tommy Wiseau. He ran up the steps, and without missing a beat, jumped on top of a planter, perching himself precariously on the edge. He threw up his arms, and his metal studded leather belt barely held up his pants. The crowd screamed, and Tommy drank in the adulation, enough that his power drunk ass almost fell off the planter into the courtyard 30 feet below below. After one more sip from the fountain of fame, he jumped off the planter, walked into the theater, and it was time for us to take in this masterpiece.
Ah, but first…little did I know that Tommy Wiseau, filmmaker and philosopher, did a short Q&A in each sold-out theater before the film. You heard me: All five screens at midnight on a Saturday, completely sold out. Wiseau sauntered in, and the crowd cheered. A couple of guys handed him a trophy for, and I quote, “awesomeness.” He was handed a microphone, and began to talk in a very thick, very slurred Eastern European accent (even though his bio says he was born and raised in New Orleans). Wiseau spent the next five minutes answering questions about the meaning of life and his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan while calling on audience members with such terms of endearment as “hot girl” and “the white thing” (so named for his white shirt, I suppose). Then, he was quickly ushered out, and the lights dimmed. It was time to enter…”The Room”.
I can easily describe the storyline of “The Room”: Lisa, the girlfriend of our hero Johnny, begins a torrid affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark, sending all of them into a spiral of lies and deceit. To describe all the ways this movie gets this story line wrong is impossible (and unfair, considering that part of the fun in seeing the movie is the surprisingly awful ways Wiseau’s tale unfolds). “The Room” was originally marketed as a tense drama along the lines of a Tennessee Williams’ play. Since its embrace as a hysterically bad cult film, Wiseau has jumped on that bandwagon and sworn that comedy was his intention all along. Don’t believe it. This movie is hilarious because it isn’t trying to be. It’s trying to be a serious meditation on relationships, and it fails. However, it fails gloriously. This can only happen if you have a singular vision and absolutely no aptitude for filmmaking. Luckily, Tommy Wiseau is that guy. His screenplay (if you can call it that) is an almost verite’ look at the lives of these characters. I say verite’ because we get to witness absolutely banal conversations that don’t advance the story and make absolutely no sense. Witness this gem:
Lisa: Did you get the promotion?
Lisa: You didn’t get it, did you?
Wiseau the director is even more inept. He frames shots like your aunt who suffers from glaucoma. He fires actors mid-film and replaces them with completely new characters without explanation. He uses green-screened shots of San Francisco that look more like bombed out Vienna after World War II. Logic? Continuity? Forget about it. Why else would Lisa’s mom start a scene off by casually mentioning that she has breast cancer just to get up and leave one minute later, never to mention her terminal condition again? Oh, and did I mention that no one in this movie knows how to close a door when they leave? Add to this the crazy drug dealer who shows up for one scene but leaves an important prop around (presumably the only reason he shows up in this film at all), the order for a “half Canadian bacon with pineapple, half artichoke and pesto, light on the cheese” pizza that shows up as nothing but a plain cheese pizza, the random guy and girl who get it on in Johnny’s apartment (kudos to the actor for making the most disgusting sex faces I’ve ever seen on film), and you have a recipe for an absolute mess.
The film has also become somewhat of a Rocky Horror, audience participation experience. Audience members yell at the screen, making fun of characters and their actions. They chant “GO! GO! GO!” over an extremely long pan of the Golden Gate Bridge (one of many interminably lingering shots of San Francisco), hoping that the camera will make it to the end of its shot before getting fired. There are original R&B songs over what are possibly the most disgusting sex scenes ever, and the audience would sing these songs if they weren’t gagging over the two of the most wretched nude bodies in the history of cinema. The spoons? Well, in the film, there is a nicely framed photo of a spoon that inexplicably shows up randomly, prompting the audience to throw their plastic utensils at the screen. The footballs come out as the guys onscreen play football outside AND inside (nothing says MEN like playing football in what looks like the back corner of a BJ’s Pizza place). It’s not just a film: it’s a sing-along, sporting event and gang fight at Bed, Bath & Beyond all in one! They can be reverential though. The audience goes completely silent for the flower shop scene, which may have the best performance in the movie. Of course, that performance is delivered by a dog.
I’ve been back to see “The Room” a couple of times since that initial screening, and every time, I find something new to love about. A new line of dialogue, a new poorly framed shot, a new horribly acted moment. It’s like one of those giant flowers that bloom and smell like rotting flesh. It may stink to high heaven, but it is beautiful, and you can’t help looking at it because you know it will be gone soon. Only in this case, it doesn’t look like this stinky, beautiful flower is going anywhere soon. And thank the heavens for that, because this magical movie must be seen to be appreciated. As Johnny so wonderfully puts it, “You know what they say? Love is blind.” Yes, Tommy, yes it is.