Originally shown September 8, 2010
This week’s Movie Klub movie (review coming this weekend!) was cut from the so-bad-it’s-good mold, which made me want to go back to probably the most famous (infamous?) screening in the time I’ve been showing up: Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 movie The Room.
Wiseau made the film for a reported $6 million, managed to self-distribute it in a few theaters in Los Angeles, and even got an advertisement up on one of L.A.’s digital billboards at tremendous expense. Eventually the film got noticed, and is now showing regularly in New York, Chicago, and other large cities. Wiseau has become a wealthy and famous man by promoting the movie as a black comedy about love and relationships.
Here’s the problem with that claim: it’s not true. The Room first got noticed by professional comedians and comic actors in Hollywood not because it is a brilliant comedy, but because it is laughably bad. I’ve been in love with movies for a long time, and I can say without question that The Room is the most incompetently made film I’ve ever seen.
You look at a stereotypically “bad” film such as last year’s Jonah Hex, and you can usually find at least one thing that all that money will cause to be done right, such as the special effects or Josh Brolin’s Hex makeup or Megan Fox’s bustier. Amazingly, The Room does absolutely nothing right. Wiseau’s budget – actually fairly large for an independent film – appears to have gone nowhere. A few shots are supposed to take place on the roof of a building; a hilariously fake backdrop of the San Francisco skyline is in the background. Half of the time it looks like an expensive television sitcom, and in the other half it looks like a cheap made-for-TV movie.
Looks aren’t the half of it. The script is littered with bad-writing tricks, such as the repeating of a single phrase over and over for no reason (such as “I don’t want to talk about it”). Scenes that ask a bunch of bros to taunt each other playfully, or throw the ol’ pigskin around, somehow manage to look even more fake than a Dockers commercial. The movie is only 99 minutes long, and yet it transitions between scenes with endless tracking shots along the length of the Golden Gate Bridge. And Wiseau himself as Johnny is an inexplicable actor, sort of a cross between Charles Nelson Reilly and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The movie is about how Johnny and his girlfriend Lisa watch their relationship disintegrate. At least I think that’s what it’s about; it’s not always easy to tell, because characters drop in and out of the movie seemingly at random. A drug-abuse subplot appears, gains momentum via an ugly confrontation, and is never heard from again. The role of Peter was re-cast halfway through the movie, and the new actor (known as “Steven”) looks nothing like the first one, which makes the end of the movie seem all the more surreal and disjointed. In the movie’s most famous line, a character announces apropos of nothing that she has cancer, and the subject is never broached again – not even inside the same scene!
And yet, even with all of this incompetence, The Room has a weird charm. This is because, contrary to Wiseau’s current claim that it is a satire, the movie is so damned earnest. Tommy Wiseau clearly had a relationship disintegrate, he feels certain that the woman was at fault, and this film is his response. The character of Lisa is the sort of lying harpy that many men claim their crazy ex-girlfriends are. In just about every scene, every character other than Lisa goes out of their way to remind everyone what a terrific person Johnny is. The whole picture reeks of the misogyny that even the most feminist of men can fall prey to during a bad breakup.
Almost without fail, a bad major-studio movie happens because people get lazy. The writer turns in a lazy script, the actors turn in lazy performances, the director lazily executes his vision, et cetera. I’ll say this for The Room: there is nothing lazy about it. The movie is a labor of love (or maybe hate) on the part of Tommy Wiseau. He developed this concept and threw himself into it with all of the passion he could muster over the course of two years.
His problem was an amazing one which we usually only see on television: like the Tracy Jordan character on 30 Rock, Tommy Wiseau has absolutely no concept of the real world. Most bad-movie dialogue sounds a little like how people talk; Wiseau’s doesn’t. Most bad-movie sets look almost like real places; Wiseau’s looks like Sesame Street during an acid freakout. If Tommy Wiseau made a Thomas Jefferson biopic, it would literally look like this.
Sometimes I get a little depressed about the success of The Room, because I’m afraid that other filmmakers will try to duplicate it. You don’t set out to make a movie like this; it just happens. Jaws became a transcendent horror movie because Spielberg couldn’t make the fake shark work; The Room has become a transcendent comedy experience because Tommy Wiseau couldn’t make anything work. Most directors would kill to distinguish themselves in the way he has. You laugh more and more with every scene of The Room because it becomes increasingly impossible to think that its director is, in fact, a real person.
Reviewed by Mark Young