Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

NO ENCORES: The Room (2003)

1. The Room (2003)
Director: Tommy Wiseau

Can you believe I’ve never seen “The Room” before? The film’s reputation more then proceeds it. “The Room” is undeniably the reigning cult classic of the modern day. Unlike many prefab cult flicks, “The Room's” following emerged totally organically. Created almost solely by a madman, the film’s billboard advertisement attracted morbidly curious viewers. After realizing how insane the movie was, watchers started showing up regularly. “The Room” began as a west coast in-joke but spread across the world thanks to word of mouth and yearly April Fools Day screenings on Adult Swim. Now, “The Room’s” cult reputation is such that books and movies are being made about it. This fascination with “The Room” is totally warranted. Director/writer/producer/star Tommy Wiseau has made a few attempts to cash in on his cult success but has yet to direct another feature film.

Johnny seemingly has an ideal life. He’s engaged to marry Lisa, a woman he loves dearly. He’s adopted a teenage boy, who looks up to him. All his friends adore him. Lisa, however, has grown bored with Johnny. Secretly, she’s begun sleeping with his best friend, Mark. Mark is conflicted by this, fearful of hurting his friend, but can’t resist Lisa’s sex appeal. Soon, Johnny becomes aware of Lisa’s infidelity. The turmoil in his life begins to pile up. The stress threatens to tear him apart.

It’s impossible to discuss “The Room” without bringing up the bizarre circumstances surrounding its creation. Who is Tommy Wiseau? The filmmaker is an enigma. His origins are shrouded in mystery. His accent is difficult to decipher, though some research points to Wiseau being Polish. “The Room” was made for a rather hefty sum of six million dollars. By some accounts, Wiseau was a successful businessman before branching into film making, which seems difficult to believe. Who, or what, ever Tommy Wiseau is, one thing is apparent. “The Room” was a passion project for him. Once the movie’s ironic following bloomed, Wiseau has claimed “The Room” was always meant to be funny. The actual project, meanwhile, suggest utter earnestness. The film is the tortured screaming of a troubled soul, a cry for help and recognition. No other human being could’ve made this.

It’s also utterly inept. There’s so much about “The Room” that is unintentionally hilarious. Yet no element amuses more then the film’s whiplash inducing tonal shifts. Scenes of wacky comic relief, such as friends of Johnny messing around in his apartment, shift suddenly into deadly seriousness. Light comedic dialogue stands alongside life altering revelations. A playful scene of football ends suddenly when a character falls into a trash can, seemingly seriously injuring himself. One minute, a room full of characters will be discussing the heavy issues in their life before segueing violently into cutesy banter. A long shot is devoted to Johnny running in the park, with no further implication on the story. People dress up in tuxedos for no reason. Character motivations shift from scene to scene. Cast members come and go with little effect on the plot. All of “The Room” is like this, resulting in an utterly baffling viewing experience.

Tommy Wiseau claims his cinematic influences are Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock. Yet the type of movie “The Room” most closely resembles is softcore pornography. Early in the film’s run time, Johnny and Lisa are in bed. The bedroom is shot with soft lighting, a transparent curtain hanging above the bed. Embarrassingly saccharine R&B play over the love scenes. Hilariously, this music plays even when two characters who should not be having sex are going at it. Juliette Danielle and, more uncomfortably, Tommy Wiseau are often nude. While Danielle is attractive, Wiseau’s body is less camera friendly. The sex itself is bizarrely positioned, causing more giggles among viewers. More often then not, “The Room” feels like an episode of “Red Shoe Diaries” from some bizarro alternate universe.

As I said, “The Room” is deeply personal. This first viewing left me with many questions but the most pertinent one is: Tommy Wiseau, who was the woman that hurt you? Juliette Danielle’s Lisa is portrayed as nothing sort of a venom-spewing succubus. Johnny is treated practically like a saint. He provides shelter to his girlfriend, several friends, and has seemingly adopted a troubled youth. Despite their seemingly happy relationship, Lisa betrays Johnny, sleeping with his best friend. Why? Because Johnny bores her, for some reason. She tells vicious lies about Johnny, claiming he’s drinking and beating her. She manipulates both men, even telling Johnny that she’s pregnant. Johnny becomes aware of Lisa’s infidelity early on but continues to stay with her for quite some time. Even after the grim ending, the movie continues to pile on Lisa. She’s frequently called a tramp, a slut, a whore, a bitch. “The Room” holds many mysteries but Wiseau’s thoughts on his ex-girlfriends isn’t one of them.

If you want to endear your movie to nerds all over the world, pack it full of quotable dialogue. This is true of “The Room” but for all the wrong reasons. The dialogue is best described as circular. Characters will repeat the same information multiple times within one scene. In one scene, a character orders pizza. Afterwards, she asks if she should order pizza. She then corrects herself, pointing out she already ordered pizza. An especially hilarious series of scenes has party goers going outside and inside multiple times. It’s as if Wiseau forget the point of scenes midway through writing them. Thanks to the movie’s careening tone, conversations about abuse allegations crash right into casual chitchat. The script meanders, making sure Wiseau says hello to a dog or chats with a barista. When given an expositionary monologue, Tommy rambles endlessly about seemingly irrelevant details. “The Room” will likely have you laughing but no element provides more hilarity then the immediately memorable dialogue.

Of course, the acting is really weird too. Objectively, it’s terrible. Wiseau is difficult to understand, frequently reading his own bizarre dialogue in an odd monotone. When given big moments, he screams for the heavens. Greg Sestero as Mark flatly walks through his scenes, swinging from incredulous to angry with little reasoning. Juliette Danielle as Lisa can be seemingly sweet one scene and utterly evil in the next. All the performances are like this. They ratchet back and forth between extremes, all while maintaining a very strange affectation. Weirder yet, most of the cast members keep a straight face throughout this insanity. Only Kyle Vogt as Peter ever visibly shows how confused he is by the script. The performers come off less like actors playing characters and more like aliens pretending to be humans. Poorly.

What does one make of Denny? Out of all the strange elements in “The Room,” Denny is certainly one of the strangest. The character is apparently a college student. However, he acts like a prepubescent child. More then once, he refers to Johnny as a father figure and Lisa as a mother figure. However, in one especially awkward moment, he confesses he has romantic feelings for Lisa. Denny’s Oedipal feelings for his adopted parents might explain why he’s so eager to watch them have sex in an early scene. After its initial appearance, this plot point is never acknowledged again. “The Room” does this frequently. In one notorious moment, Denny is attacked by a drug dealer with a gun. This spirals into a hilarious scene where Lisa and her mom are frantically questioning him about what happened. Denny seemingly bought drugs, either to use or sell. Once again, after this single scene, none of this information is mentioned. Philip Haldiman plays Denny as something akin to an idiot man-child, a six year old in the body of an adult.

Plot points that are raised and then forgotten are a frequent occurrence inside “The Room.” Lisa’s mother, Claudette, ranges from motherly to shrewish often within the same scene. Even after Lisa’s irrational hatred of Johnny becomes clear, Claudette insists she marry him. Yet none of that matters, because Claudette is dying of breast cancer. This is casually dropped in the middle of a conversation and – you guessed it – never referenced again. This is one of the few films that could be watched out of order and the audience would be unlikely to notice. I’m not convinced some scenes aren’t out of order already.

And what of Mike, Johnny’s rather fratboyish friend? Mike and his girlfriend attempt to have sex within Johnny’s apartment. This factoid, and the embarrassing fallout, is repeatedly brought up. The character seemingly exists for comic relief. Yet because so much of “The Room” is already hilarious, these attempts at comedy just add to the film’s supreme awkwardness. Moreover, Mike disappears from the film before the end, replaced by another character named Steven. The small but constantly shifting cast suggest that Wiseau had many ideas for “The Room,” jumbled them up, and stitched them together at random.

If I haven’t made it clear, “The Room” is completely ineptly made. Take Wiseau’s direction, for example. He often cuts to establishing shots of San Francisco, maudlin and generic music playing over the lingering images. The rest of the film is shot rather flatly. Characters mostly stand around and talk, with few close-ups or movements. Except for the handful of times when the camera whips across the room, unprofessionally, to other characters. Or how about the pacing? Even as a delirious cult experience, “The Room” drags before it’s over. That birthday party scene goes on forever. The denouncement, meanwhile, is equally drawn out.

All of my criticism of “The Room” may make you think I hate it. The opposite is true. I love “The Room.” Every single frame of this movie demands conversation. Every minute makes you wonder how such a picture could’ve been made. The film is pure outsider art, endearing, bizarre, and unforgettable. It’s the perfect cult classic for the millennial age, a tale of relationship anxiety and life-crushing pressure filtered through a madman’s sensibilities. Wiseau has followed up his unintentional masterpiece with several short films and a quasi-television series. Recently, he’s threatened to make a sequel, which would reveal that Johnny was a vampire all along. However, a part of me hopes he leaves well enough alone. Nothing could ever replicate the experience of ‘The Room,” a film that is endlessly fascinating, completely by accident. [8/10]

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