Friday, December 3, 2010

The Room (2003)

Most bad movies aren't bad in any special way. The business of filmmaking has always been a high dollar risk venture, so most films try to duplicate past successes. This is why your average FAILURE TO LAUNCH* is a bland confection of recycled materials, the cinematic equivalent of fast food--the same old shit on a new bun. In other words, they're bad in a mass produced way.

And then there's THE ROOM, a movie so horrible it achieves a kind of greatness. It is part of the genre of so-bad-it's-good films that reaches back to Claudio Fragasso's TROLL 2 and, further, to the godfather of godawfulness, Ed Wood, director of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. Like those films, THE ROOM is the work of an auteur. This would-be chamber drama was produced, written, and directed by Tommy Wiseau and stars Wiseau as Johnny, a San Francisco bank employee with a European accent of indeterminate origin. He's engaged to marry the villainous Lisa, but Lisa is bored by their life together and decides to seduce Johnny's best friend, Mark.

That's pretty much it for the main plot, but the film is chocked full to bursting with tossed-off, immediately abandoned subplots. There's a one-scene-long subplot involving a drug dealer, followed not long after by a one-scene-long subplot about Lisa's faked pregnancy. And then there's the truly weird moments--like one character's casual revelation that she's dying of breast cancer...a matter never mentioned again in the film.

THE ROOM plays like it's been made by people who've never seen a movie before. Someone must have told Wiseau that you point a camera at people while they pretend to have conversations, and that's what happens here. Sorta. The acting in this movie isn't just bad, it's supernaturally horrible. As both a writer and an actor, Wiseau has only a glancing command of English ("Lisa has been teasing me, and we didn't make love in a while" and "Everybody betray me!"). Meanwhile, the main set looks like the background of an infomercial, shots drift in and out of focus for no reason, and scenes play as if they were edited at random.

Best (or worst) of all: scattered throughout the film, like little time bombs, are four sex scenes that should be shown to high school students as advertisements for abstinence.

The movie is, in a word, hilarious. And, see, this is where THE ROOM finds its dimwitted grandeur. Your average Hollywood craptacular is made with proficiency and skill and soul-crushing banality. Wiseau's magnum opus, however, is never bland. There's not a single uninteresting scene in this movie. Every scene is bizarrely, uniquely terrible in some way.

For instance, my favorite subplot involves Denny, the freakish man-child who lives in the same building as Johnny. We're told that Denny is like Johnny's son, but it's unclear a) how old Denny is (he looks to be in his mid-twenties but acts like he's about fourteen), and b) where Denny lives. He sneaks into Johnny's apartment to watch Johnny and Lisa roll around on the bed. This leads to a pillow fight, followed by Denny's departure and the harrowing descent of Johnny and Lisa into one of the film's gorge-raising depictions of human coitus. Later, Denny is threatened by a drug dealer, and still later, he confesses to Johnny that he's in love with Lisa (which, needless to say, is yet another subplot abandoned posthaste).

The thing is, all this adds up to a unified whole. THE ROOM may want to be SEX, LIES and VIDEOTAPE, but
its real antecedent is Ed Wood's GLEN OR GLENDA, another drama that was morphed into a comedy by the sheer passionate ineptitude of its creator. And to give credit where credit is due, THE ROOM is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, as funny in its way as anything by Woody Allen, Peter Bogdanovich, or the Coen brothers. See it with someone you love, or better yet, see it with a lot of people. The film has become a "cult sensation" and seeing it this past weekend at The Shadowbox Community Microcinema in Roanoke, VA, I was struck by its power on an audience. Yelling at the screen, calling out lines of dialog, applauding after the sex scenes--the crowd loved it with a fervor we usually reserve for great works of pop art.

Watch some clips here.

*my thanks to my buddy Erin Wommack for providing the name of a shitty Matthew McConaughey movie when I needed one.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You're tearing me apart Jake! I found this movie painfully bad and not in a funny way. Maybe it's better watched with a room full of people but I have no desire to see this movie again.