Why I Love… #37: The Room

Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) gives Denny (Philip Haldiman) some neighbourly advice
Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) gives Denny (Philip Haldiman) some neighbourly advice

Year: 2003

Director: Tommy Wiseau

Stars: Tommy Wiseau (Johnny), Juliette Danielle (Lisa), Philip Haldiman (Denny), Greg Sestero (Mark), Carolyn Minnott (Claudette)

Genre: Melodrama / Comedy / Disaster Movie

A camera pans slowly along the Golden Gate Bridge from one end to the other. The kind of establishing shot you might see in any number of movies. But the audience aren’t reacting the way they would to any number of movies. They’re chanting.

“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!”

When Alcatraz finally drifts into shot the audience cheers. A rogue spoon spins toward the screen. There is laughter. The cheering carries on into the next scene. And so it goes. Frequently the dialogue of the film playing is barely audible over the hubbub created by the audience. The catcalls. The jeering. The clatter of spoons. Adding The Room to this series of essays may tarnish their integrity. Then again it might not. I love this car crash of a movie. Millions do. Because it’s awful.

It’s the ultimate cult movie. Top of the list. The Room spread – and continues to spread – by word of mouth. It’s not in the ‘R’ section of your local HMV (there are no local DVD stores anymore). You can’t buy it.  (you can buy it… direct from Tommy Wiseau!) Disseminated through downloads and midnight screenings, it is the subject of hushed conversations peppered with knowing looks and fits of giggles. EraserheadHeathers etc can all stand in line.

So why? Well, unlike Eraserhead and HeathersThe Room is unbelievably bad. This is inept filmmaking of the highest order. Shots slip in and out of focus, the acting is so bad you genuinely have to see it to believe it, the story is trite, the dialogue laughable and some people just shouldn’t be filmed naked. It’s all the brainchild of one man; Tommy Wiseau. He writes, directors and stars. He is also credited as both producer and executive producer. This is his baby. He’d have you believe it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. That it’s  all intentional. If it is, the man’s a master of comedy. Watching the movie though, you can’t help but feel that it’s all cripplingly sincere.

The lore surrounding the movie is gargantuan. Supposedly Wiseau shot the film on both 35mm and high-def video, side-by-side, as he was confused about the difference between the two. Wiseau claims to have funded the film by selling imported leather jackets, yet the budget is estimated to have been $6m. There is more. You can find it elsewhere. Someday someone’s going to write a book about the legend behind The Room (if they already have, tell me! they have; the film’s own Greg Sestero has written a book called The Disaster Artist). What’s more enjoyable is the final result.

What a movie. Johnny and his fiance Lisa live a blissful life in a San Francisco apartment. Johnny is expecting a promotion at the bank where he works. They have a beautiful collection of spoon photographs (don’t ask). Life couldn’t seem to be better. But Lisa is restless and, what’s more, her eyes are straying… to Johnny’s ‘best friend’ Mark. Suddenly their perfect life starts to tumble around them; that promotion doesn’t seem to be working out, inquisitive young neighbour Denny is in trouble with drug dealers and Lisa’s mother has cancer (blink and you’ll miss that story line). And all the while Lisa, like a harpy, seduces Mark. What a bitch.

There is more. Plenty more. But I wouldn’t want to spoil the shocking revelations for anyone reading who hasn’t seen it. What I want to talk about is a cinema experience like no other, because if you do discover a theatre that is showing the movie, please book a seat. There is general uproar and mayhem throughout the film’s 99 minute run time. I’d advise that you see the movie beforehand so that you’re familiar with what’s going on, as you’re likely to find much of what happens encumbered by audience noise. Sit near the back if you can also, as you’re otherwise liable to be pelted with plastic spoons. 99.9% of the time when I go to see a movie, I want deathly silence from the audience. Not so The Room.

The film’s catchphrases (repeated uses of the phrases “Oh, hi”, “Oh, hey”, “Don’t worry about it”) get hollered back at the screen. American footballs are brought by some and chucked from aisle to aisle when the characters in the film go for an impromptu tossabout. Whenever the film frequently (and needlessly) cuts to another establishing shot, a chorus of “MEANWHILE IN SAN FRANCISCO!” is bellowed by all. It’s mayhem. People also call out mocking questions, highlighting the film’s countless oddities. “Why is the television behind a chair!?” Who knows. “What is that thing bulging out of Lisa’s neck?” Nobody wants to know.

The film is a complete catastrophe. Not even the credits are competent (some of the actors’ names are misspelled). Everything. Every single thing about this movie is bad. It’s also a hoot. A riot. Whatever fun adjective you want to give it.

I am blessed in that I live close to a cinema that gives the film a yearly screening. The staff roll their eyes at its mention, remembering all too well the debris to clear up afterward. The littering of plastic spoons like the aftermath at some improbable cutlery battlefield. I’ll show up to work next day, frown, and dump a handful of plastic spoons out of my pocket onto my desk. People will glance strangely, then get on with their work. They don’t know. They haven’t had someone whisper to them about it yet. Haven’t met someone containing their giggles. They don’t know just how the phrase, “you’re tearing me apart, Lisa” can be imbued with such gravitas. Such meaning.

If you’ve seen it, see it in the cinema. If you’ve seen it in the cinema, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it… find it. Prepare yourself. Then remember that preparing yourself doesn’t matter. There is nothing quite like The Room.

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