Saturday, August 1, 2009
Dir. Tommy Wisseau
What is The Room? A quick look at IMDb tells you it is a drama, a romance, a comedy, "a film with the passion of Tennessee Williams" and "an American black comedy about love, passion, betrayal and lies". After seeing the film for the first time last weekend, I'm still working out whether it is really none of those things, or indeed all of those things at once in every second of its 99 minutes. Honestly, there is no doubt that The Room is a bad movie. It's poorly shot, badly acted and confusingly edited. Everything about the movie, down to the costuming, is so distracting that if you tried your hardest to focus on what the hell is going on in the movie, as I mistakenly attempted, you will only encounter despair. But worst of all, the film wants to be important -- it strives for Tennessee Williams like a drunkard finding the key hole to the front door at 4am. It isn't the kind of bad you find in Wolverine or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. This is obviously a very personal film for Tommy Wisseau and the level of heart and soul behind the film balanced against the brazenly incompetent filmmaking put The Room squarely in the ranks of the best/worst of Ed Wood rather than the works of Dr. Uwe Boll.
Released the summer of 2003 in Los Angeles, The Room almost came and went without notice like any number of other micro-released films that play the obligatory one or two theaters in a city before hitting DVD and cable. But thanks in large part to a notorious billboard of the droopy-eyed Wisseau photo and some good old-fashioned word of mouth, by 2007 it was a full-blown midnight movie phenomenon of Rocky Horror Picture Show proportions. It quickly became all about audience participation, plastic spoons and reveling in the The Room's many, hrm, mysteries?
Back in high school I'd make it to the Rocky Horror Picture Show as often as I could. In San Bernardino, California, that wasn't very easy for a 15 year old without a car. Getting to Montclair took no small amount of effort and coordination, but it was always worth it. I don't think the stars will ever align to bring about a movie more suited to audience participation than the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's got catchy song and dance, eye popping production design, sci-fi elements, Susan Sarandon in her underwear, a story that appeals to all sexual orientations, Meatloaf... On its own it's not exactly a well made movie but it has some genuinely entertaining qualities and the audience participation raises it to heights the filmmakers could never have anticipated but certainly appreciate. The Room is the flip side to this and in some ways this makes it less enjoyable than a bad genre movie like RHPS or Troll 2. The story is the definition of mundane, all the actors are people you'd rather not see in their underwear thankyouverymuch, even the songs in The Room are unbearable and, when it's in focus, the photography is flat and unappealing. To an extent it is the same problem I have with those certain episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that are so piss poor and boring that it's a chore to make it to the next zinger.
So what is the story of The Room? Well, why the movie is called "The Room" is certainly one of the more obvious and unanswered questions of the film. It's a fairly typical love triangle involving Tom- er Johnny, his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and his best friend Mark (Sestero! Greg Sestero actually, but I think a wise career move for the man would be to go the one name route a la Fabio. I can easily picture those seven letters in all-caps above the title of the next made-for-SyFy movie). What little life there is to this set-up comes from Wisseau's bizarre, perverse world-view. Especially regarding Lisa The Succubus. Usually the irresistible object of desire has some sort of charm or redeeming, attractive qualities. The only reason we're given for Johnny's intense devotion to Lisa is that she'll jump into the sack with him when he buys her a dress because otherwise she's hateful and self-centered to the core.
But Johnny, if there's a fault to the man it's that he's too caring, too thoughtful, trusting and wise. That Johnny is such a nice guy he's even paying for a neighborhood kid's tuition. That the neighborhood kid, Denny, seems to be a little touched in the head is besides the point. (And "besides the point" could be the film's motto.) Even the store proprietors adore Johnny. As does Lisa's mother, who tries to talk sense into her -- but she's got the cancer, so... So what, right? That seems to be the movie's interest in that little detail. Anyway, Lisa simply finds Johnny-the-do-gooder too dull for her lustful ways. Sestero, on the other had, now there's a real man. Yawn.
So is it even noteworthy that every single moment of the film is a train wreck? By mounting an HD camera directly next to a 35mm camera, Wisseau ensured that not one second of the film would be well framed. Using a revolving door policy for the hiring and firing of his crew during the filming process also helped give the look of the film some nice inconsistencies. One of the more genuinely strange aspects of the movie is the amount of characters that appear with no explanation to give advice or act concerned and in turn disappear back into the ethers. It all begs the question, is utter incompetency something to celebrate? While Wisseau certainly has passion for this project -- is his message of how cruel women can be really worth the attention, even if it is placed on a pedestal to be mocked?
There's no denying there's a fun time to be had with The Room on a Saturday night with an eager audience when the plastic spoons are flying high through the air. There is an excitement to be part of this community as they work on extracting the most fun from the film. If you go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show this weekend you'll be hearing the best ad-libs and routines distilled the past 30 years. If you go to The Room this weekend some of the excitement is being part of the process. Right now, there's some filtering to be done to pick up on the best zingers since every moment is an opportunity and you have a theater full of people waiting to let one loose. 20 years from now, the other script, the audience script for The Room, is sure to be amazing and there's a lot of fun to even just observe this process if not take part in it.
I can't imagine myself regularly watching The Room, even under ideal circumstances. The movie is just so damn bad that there's a visceral reaction within me to stay away from it. But I had a great time and recommend that everyone should experience this phenomenon at least once. Rumor is that there will be another midnight screening at the Coolidge at some point this month. Keep your eye out. I really can't imagine there being an alternative movie-going experience out there that would be more fun.