Film discussion

Looking back at… The Room (2003)

What else can one say about The Room? A cult movie in the truest sense. It’s a film you can’t show any moviegoer. These days, most people get the film mixed up with the Lenny Abrahamson’s Oscar charming drama of the same name: Room (2015). When asking, “have you seen The Room?”, you place extra emphasis on ‘The’, as not to get mixed up with the Brie Larson starring tear jerker. For the most part, The Room is not for that audience.

Who is this film for? To be honest, it shouldn’t really be for anyone. Originally conceived as play in 2001, the film is the brainchild of one Tommy Wiseau, a wild haired dreamer of a creative who clearly wishes to aim for the sun, but doesn’t really understand how to build the wings to get him there, let alone the concept of flying towards it. Before the creation of The Room, Wiseau was just one more failed actor looking for his big break. However, this was a failed actor with mysterious means of financing a production. Mostly through dubiously imported leather goods.

Spurred on by his then-roommate and bit-part actor Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau becomes a one-man creative army and decided to produce, direct and star in a monstrous melding of soap opera level Americana, crumbling cliché and Tennessee Williams worship. It’s a tragibad creation of woeful blocking, bad framing, and cringe-worthy performances wrapped up in a narrative full of needless exposition and plot strands which only lead to dead ends. It’s a film which clearly negates some of the basic elements of how to structure scenes or build tension or chemistry. Try and describe the narrative in any real detail and those with a weak mind could go mad. It’s a film that poses more questions than it cares to answer, mostly because of a script that’s filled with more holds than a honeycomb. You can’t show The Room to people who watch movies for conventional pleasure, they will see not just a bad movie, but an apocalyptically disastrous one. For all my knowledge of film, I clearly should feel the same. Despite this I consider The Room to be outrageously entertaining pieces of unintentional outsider art I’ve witnessed.

The Room is not a good movie. Not by a long shot. But it’s an enjoyable one. It’s a film I’ve witnessed more times than “higher” classed movies that I consider to be influential entertainments. Like great cinema, every watch releases something new. When you speak to fans of the film, they too are able to bend your ear and inform you of another unearthed truffle of joy that you missed the last time you viewed it. Date movie? Not at all, but the significant other who can watch this movie with the same amount of pleasure as it’s other fans is definitely a keeper.

It shouldn’t really be enjoyable, but some the moment that the cheap, 90’s style Wiseau Film’s ident kicks in, you can tell that you’re in for a treat. Starting with panning shots of San Francisco that the films real locations never appear to get close to, the film really kicks off with the infamous opening line: “Hi Babe!”, uttered by an already bedraggled Wiseau. Tommy Wiseau plays Johnny, a (somehow) successful banker, whose pleasantly greeted by his “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who appears pleased to see him. However, despite her newly bought red dress, passionate sex life (which we observe on more than one occasion) and fancy San Fran townhouse, Lisa is far more interested pursuing an affair with Tommy’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), a non-descript waster who’s not interested in Lisa, however is happy to have sex with her. Often. Lisa is also the object of desire to Denny (Philip Haldiman), a young neighbour boy, who Johnny watches over like an older brother. This is less important, however, but worth mentioning highlight how desired Lisa is, despite displaying no real characteristics that make her attractive. The Room’s main plot is how a whole bunch of people flitter around this dishevelled, vampiric-looking banker and his highly manipulative, yet horribly treated girlfriend like drunken moths to a vaguely appealing flame.

The rest of the film is really a long list of sketchily interlocking vignettes involving the characters which are mostly inconsistent. The film is brought together like a group of puzzle pieces to various other movies which somehow fit together perfectly. A mother has cancer! Let’s not speak about it again. Is a character selling drugs? Let’s not worry about that. This is a 2003 film, so let’s fill all the really excruciatingly cringe-worthy sex scenes with RnB that sounds like it’s from the 90’s. The Room lets characters flip-flop between extreme emotions (YOU’RE TEARING ME APART, LISA!), jumping from zero to sixty without a moment’s hesitance, with little regard for what’s happened in a previous scene. This isn’t about small continuity goofs. Entire segments of the plot are lobbed into the fire like a fundamental Christian book burning. Nothing really every connects, yet just one look at Wiseau’s dubious posture and slouchy swagger and you are asked to run with things. If you’re willing to enter this man’s world, you will happily follow.

The thing is, as terrible as this film is, from the poorly positioned editing transitions which break the rhythm of scenes to seeing actors literally dropping their performance before they’ve moved off screen, The Room remains compelling. Much like the proverbial rubbernecking of a car crash, the film is near impossible to look away. This is because Wiseau is actually an artist. There’s plenty of bad movies in the world. Films with the same terrible issues that litter this film like a children’s playroom. Like that playroom, The Room is filled with loud, colourful distractions. Think of The Room as you would think of Pinhead as you hold the Lament Configuration Box. Such sights to show does the film. Both pleasure and pain. Ineptly stumbling through “scenes” which look as if they were extremely painful to record, but are so jaw-droppingly strange that they can’t be dismissed. It’s as if an Alien watched cinema for the first time and tried to recreate themselves.

It holds the elements of movie making but they’re all warped out of shape. The film’s limited locations and melodramatic performances seem to belie the film’s theatrical origins, but Wiseau’s inability to understand blocking and framing means he cannot contain or shape the space and form. The film slowly begins to break down in front of your eyes. So many scenes are clearly designed as if they were to be staged, but being a film means that the characters often exiting stage left just don’t make sense. Then again this is a film in which due to an actor having little time to record his part has the rest of his lines given to another actor with no explanation. These moments give The Room an abstract feel that feels more likened to Lynchian dream logic. But unlike Lynch, as The Room’s scenes and characters drift inside and out of each other, and the plot leads itself into endless blind alleys, these abreactions are completely unintentional. However, the more you watch the film, the more you take in its ludicrous dialogue, you realise that this is a film only Wiseau could make.

Tommy Wiseau’s’ bizarre behaviour is best left to be discovered in Greg Sestero’s tell-all memoir of the film, The Disaster Artist (soon to become a film with James Franco). But it’s important to realise that The Room IS Tommy Wiseau in the same way that Tommy Wiseau IS The Room. The dialogue is written by him and wasn’t allowed to be edited at all. Therefore, the rhythm of the dialogue is ALL Wiseau. All the cast talk like Tommy. Wiseau’s Johnny is the star that shines brightest of all of his friends. Johnny is hilariously faultless in every way. The Disaster Artist portrays Tommy as a man who thinks of himself in a similar way. The haphazard way that Tommy lives and works, is a clear relation to The Room’s sloppiness of execution. It’s not a surprise that The Disaster Artist considers The Room to be a thinly veiled fictionalisation of Tommy’s life at the time, albeit with Tommy as the centre of the universe. Along with Wiseau’s well-known love writers such as Tennessee Williams (whose name was noted often in promoting the feature), The Room dives into personal depths that few other filmmakers dare to go. Save for Ed Wood and Uwe Boll, other bad movies don’t usually have such an affinity with their creator.

“But what about Michael Bay or Paul W.S Anderson?”, someone screams. No. Their films are questionably “bad” in that they are vulgar and play against certain tastes, but those filmmakers not only understand their craft, an aspect often dismissed due to a viewer’s palette, they also pale in comparison to Wiseau’s earnestness. Both Bay and Anderson have churned out numerous sequels to their money-spinning franchises. It’s doubtful Wiseau could make a “sequel” to a feature of his. Nor could one believe that other directors could create such an insanely strange world that Wiseau creates. This film entertains in the same way that Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace does. To be this bad takes something special. You couldn’t actively make a Tommy Wiseau film. People would know you’re trying too hard. Look at something like Sharknado. They know you’re in on the joke.

Wiseau now claims his sophomoric drama is intentionally funny. But no. It’s clear by design that he wanted to move people to tears. It’s by accident that those tears became laughter. However, the amusement that stems from watching The Room comes from the fact that everyone is so game to make it work. Despite its pompous intentions, the film stumbled upon something else. Despite The Disaster Artist book highlighting the film’s often painful construction, it’s apparent that the cast is looking hard to make something work. Juliette Danielle could easily show her talents as at least a fun presence in a film. She doesn’t have the look of a typical manipulative femme fatale and would have possibly have fared better swapping roles with Robyn Paris, who plays Lisa’s best friend Michelle. If it were not for the awful direction and the dubious intentions of the filmmaker in this film Danielle’s bright energy could have been far more useful elsewhere. Despite this, Danielle not only gives it her all but in the world of the movie, she plays the role well enough to be dislikable. Greg Sestero is a blank slate of an actor, but a good looking one. Someone who could easily be seen in a cheap indie that could give him more to do. Sestero was also Line producer and jack of all trades in the film and his wariness of the whole endeavour is believable, even if his dialogue betrays him.

The diamond in the rough of all this is Wiseau himself. All his lines are dubbed. His nocturnal habits, highlighted in The Disaster Artist, ensure that he is near lethargic in every scene. He can’t block himself in a scene and his writing of his own character as well as Lisa’s do little to show any sensitivity to women. However, this is a man pouring everything he can into a creative project. Part of the allure of The Room is watching a man create a film for the same reasons, a teenager picks up a guitar and starts a band. Wiseau’s desire to show is prowess in creativity, kindness and sexual ability (intentionally showing his ass to win over female fans) is so transparent, it’s almost invigorating.

That’s the crux of The Room. It’s a passion project of true reckless abandon and with that, it makes it easy to love. It overreaches in such a way that it leaps frogs the pretension of many personal cinematic endeavours. Yes, it’s unintentionally hilarious, but it holds a rawness that holds more truth than many of the “prestige” pictures that rear their head around the beginning of the year. When watching The Room, I never pity it, despite its tragic badness. It is a step by step instruction guide as to how not to make a film, yet it’s also a film so misshapen and misguided that I appreciate it’s awkwardness. Every step it takes is wrong, but if you were to ask Tommy Wiseau, he would be more than happy to tell you, he’d take that same step again. There’s something fascinating about that madness. If there is one thing to say about The Room, it’s that it’s all Tommy’s world and nobody can take that away from him.

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