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Thursday 11 April 2013

Terrible Films I Love, Volume I : The Room

So, as promised, here is the first review of Terrible Films I Love.

NOTE: You might notice that most/all of the clips from the film have now been removed due to a copyright claim from Tommy Wiseau...

The Room is very obviously the personal project of Tommy Wiseau who wrote, directed, starred in, and somehow how financed the entire production in 2003. It tells the quite probably semi-autobiographical tale of 'Johnny' a wealthy man-about-town (perhaps some sort of banker or something? We are never told) and his fiancée, sorry not fiancée, his "future wife" Lisa and her betrayal of Johnny with his best friend Mark. Also important to the story, in that they both have unresolved sub-plots are Denny, Johnny's ward, and Claudette, future wife's mum. There are many more characters, but they drop in and out  of the story so regularly and suddenly that they can't be considered to be part of the main plot, although that doesn't stop them taking up a great deal of screen time anyway.

The basic plot is this: Johnny and Lisa are happy and in love, Johnny buys her gifts (e.g. a dozen red roses and a sexy red dress) and they have regular sex while listening to poor quality R&B music. However, Lisa is bored with Johnny and, possibly because he doesn't get an expected job promotion, but possibly not, she decides to "make things interesting" by first starting an affair with Johnny's best friend Mark and then by lying that she has been beaten by Johnny while he was drunk and then also lying that she is pregnant. Throughout all this Johnny remains calm, he talks to his friends for advice, plays football in tuxedos, saves Denny from a violent armed drug dealer named Chris R. Finally, however, his suspicions are aroused, so he records Lisa's telephone conversations and then accidentally catches Lisa and Mark kissing at a surprise party Lisa had organised for Johnny. This prompts a fight between the former friends  everyone leaves, Johnny trashes the room and then commits suicide. End of film.

Already in this brief explanation you might be wondering WTF? But wait, there's more!

Possibly the most quoted line from the film.

Denny is such a mysterious character that he deserves a little more attention. Denny is Johnny's ward, in that, although not related Johnny takes care of Denny by paying him through college and offering moral support and philosophical advice. Also, he doesn't seem to mind that Denny professes his love for Lisa and isn't bothered by the whole drug thing. Part of this support of Denny means that the young man drops by Johnny and Lisa's flat all the time (actually, quite a lot of people seem to use the flat as a drop in centre for tedious conversations and awkward sex). Sometimes it's only a brief visit, sometimes to eat an apple, ignore the obvious hint that Johnny and Lisa want to be alone, and then join them in their pillow fight foreplay. Perhaps he is slightly backward? We'll never know, because Denny's sub-plot, like Claudette's cancer, is never explained or explored. At least Denny is the one person to genuinely grieve Johnny's death. Although the actor does call him "Tommy" by mistake, which is the sort of thing you should probably fix before distributing the film.

Advice straight from the Tao of Wiseau.

We are constantly reminded, both in the opening shot and subsequently in all establishing shots that the film is set in SAN FRANCISCO. If we are not seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, or tram cars, we are seeing Johnny walk past various landmarks to remind us of the location, but why? The setting plays absolutely no role in the plot, nor is it ever mentioned. Indeed, beyond Johnny and Lisa's flat, the roof (with obvious shed that is meant to be a stairwell), the alley, and the coffee shop, there are only a few external locations. Not forgetting the very memorable flower shop, which is probably my favourite scene, "Hi Doggy!"

Actually this also prompts the consideration of the constant greetings and farewells that all characters (but especially Johnny) participate in. If one character enters a room then they will greet everyone present and every character will in turn say, "oh Hai!" The same happens when someone leaves a room, "bye X!"

Why do they do this? I assume it's to constantly remind us who the hell anyone is, but beyond their names there's normally very little other information. For example, what reason does anyone have for any of the things they are doing? We are never given the slightest clue.

Why are there framed photos of cutlery (spoons! part of The Room screenings performance involves throwing plastic spoons whenever these pictures are in shot) and not of loved ones?

A screening in Cleveland, 2011

& Minneapolis 2010

There are many questions we could ask, but after having seen the film the most pertinent question will probably be, is this for real? Having watched this film a few times with different groups of friends there's normally one person (the sober one) who cannot believe that the whole thing wasn't a set-up or some amazing parody of a truly awful film. How is it possible, they wonder, that almost every aspect of the film (to say one good thing about the film, it is well shot, albeit shot like a daytime US soap, but still looks nice) is so terrible? It must be a hoax! Well, as this sounds like a genuine claim, I did some research and I'm pretty certain I can state that it really was a totally legitimate attempt at film-making. How so? Well despite Tommy Wiseau's later claims that The Room was a 'black comedy' and was meant to be funny, it's pretty obvious that he's not understood what a black comedy actually is and that he only claimed this after this critical outcry. Additionally and finally damning is his later 'attempt' to make a sitcom. As people have found The Room so hilarious this must mean that Wiseau is a comedy genius right? Therefore it's natural he should make a sitcom and it be a hit! This was probably something like his reasoning. Sadly for Tommy and for the viewing public, he really is not anything like a comedy genius, except unintentionally. You see, writing comedy is actually very hard and if you can't write a coherent love triangle plot or develop characters and so forth then it's pretty unlikely you'll manage to be funny on purpose.

Less funny than The Room but almost as stupid

In a sense, I suppose it is cruel to laugh at the efforts of someone so deluded. However, having heard a few interviews with Wiseau (including one were he compares The Room with Citizen Kane) I have to say he managed to remove all sympathy that I might have felt for him, I do pity the other actors and crew involved though as the production must have been an awful experience. Still, the pain is temporary but the results will resound down the ages! 

It's also inspired some equally funny responses; a flash game, various mash-up videos, parodies, and (my favourite) this excellent dubstep music video.

Final reckoning: I've only briefly touched on some of the things that make The Room so very special indeed. I could describe everything about the film but it would still need to be seen to be believed. See it!