The Room (2003)
By: Paul Ryan on March 1, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: Tommy Wiseau
Starring: Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Phillip Haldiman
Screenplay: Tommy Wiseau
Country: USA
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Anyone with an interest in bizarro cinema has probably heard of The Room by now. This film has already developed a cult following as a so-bad-it's-good classic in the vein of Plan 9 From Outer Space, with popular midnight screenings in Los Angeles and New York, and now it has come to Australia. So can a film so thoroughly excoriated possibly live up to its reputation?

Oh yes it can.

This is a film which is amazingly, astonishingly inept in every possible way. It is akin to stepping into an alternate universe completely devoid of recognisable human behaviour, a place where up is down, left is green and badly bleached hair with black eyebrows is considered "beautiful". Financed, written, produced, directed by and starring the singularly untalented Tommy Wiseau, The Room is the kind of film you get when a supremely overconfident narcissist is given access to filmmaking infrastructure.

The, er, "plot" goes something like this: San Francisco banker Johnny (Wiseau) is engaged to Lisa (Juliette Danielle). They've been together either five or seven years depending on what scene you're watching. Johnny is a "really great guy" (as other characters keep telling us), who adores his "future wife", but Lisa has grown bored with him, and now has her sights on his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero, who previously played young Andre Toulon in Retro Puppet Master. What a career!). Initially reluctant to hurt Johnny, Mark nonetheless embarks on an affair with Lisa, while she spreads malicious rumors that Johnny has been hitting her (not true, but he does shove her later on). During all of this, a young simpleton that Johnny and Lisa have befriended, Denny (Phillip Haldiman) gets into trouble with a drug dealer, though how, why and exactly what drugs this apparently healthy-looking kid is into are never explored. Oh, and did I mention that Lisa's mother Claudette (Carolyn Minnot) has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer? No? Well it gets brought up, dismissed, and never mentioned again, so whatever. But coming back to our love triangle, Johnny begins to suspect that not only has he been betrayed by his "future wife" and best mate, but by all of his friends, who seem to know what is going on ahead of him. As Johnny himself says, "Everybody betrayed me!!! I fed up [sic] with this world!!!"…

If any of that made sense to you, then give yourself a pat on the back, because Wiseau's script is full of half-formed ideas, non-sequitur plot elements, ghastly dialogue and fundamental screenwriting no-nos (every single time a character enters a scene, someone – usually Wiseau – greets them unnecessarily). The production blunders are legion, from frequently out-of-sync dialogue, non-existent continuity, bizarre staging (Johnny and Lisa's lounge room has a television situated behind a couch), atrocious blue-screen, endless establishing shots of San Francisco landmarks, anatomically-bizarre sex scenes (more on that later), and often out-of-focus cinematography, which resulted from the inexperienced Wiseau electing to film in 35mm and HD on the same mount. Characters come and go with no explanation, most noticeably Johnny's psychologist friend Peter, played a palpably uncomfortable Kyle Vogt, who quit the film before his scenes were completed. All of his lines in a later party scene were given to another actor (Greg Ellery), whose character Steven hasn't previously appeared, rendering his presence baffling.

But what really distinguishes The Room from other legendary Z-grade turkeys is the sheer, unrestrained narcissism of its creator, which is on screen for all to see. A lank-haired, indecipherably-accented, sleepy-eyed figure with the absolute opposite of screen charisma (during one scene where Johnny visits a florist, I genuinely expected the flowers to wither and rot as he passed them), Wiseau's film betrays a deep seated, intensely paranoid level of self-absorption. Characters constantly tell us how much of a "really great guy" Johnny is, but there's almost nothing to suggest that he is. We're supposed to agree with Johnny's claim that he treats Lisa "like a princess", but Wiseau's understanding of relationships is so poor that all we see him do is the bare minimum (flowers, compliments, declarations of love, etc). Not that it matters when Lisa is painted as such an irrationally wanton, malicious bitch who betrays Johnny out of spite rather than any dramatically credible reason. One gets the strong impression that Wiseau himself has never been in an actual romantic relationship, as the scenes of Johnny and Lisa's interactions never once ring true. There's a deep undercurrent of misogyny throughout. Lisa is an utter bitch to the end; her mother is dim, materialistic and easily duped, while her friend Michelle (Robyn Paris) is complicit in hiding Lisa's affair, while gleefully encouraging it. Most of the characters exist to shaft Johnny and Wiseau is delusional enough to paint himself as a tragic martyr figure, whose greatness is unrecognised by the rest of the world. Though Johnny's surname is never revealed, I wouldn't be surprised if it started with a C, if you catch my meaning. He is also crazy enough to think that we want to see his creepy, naked form in a series of agonizingly protracted, absolutely repulsive sex scenes. Or more accurately, the same goddamn sex scene repeated throughout the film. Seriously, even Andy Milligan never shot sex scenes this revolting.

But for all this hideousness, The Room is an utter laugh-riot from start to finish, especially if you can see it with an audience. The idiosyncrasies of the film make for a truly hilarious group experience, as I discovered at a recent screening at Melbourne's Cinema Nova. The audience responds to the portraits of spoons that adorn Lisa and Johnny's apartment with a constant volley of plastic spoons; the incompetent photography triggers calls of "focus!" from the crowd, and the revolting sex scenes inspire viewers to scream "cut!" If you can catch it on the big screen, you're in for a one-of-a-kind experience. Just be prepared to emerge with impaired cognitive skills and don't operate any machinery for at least 24 hours after.
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