Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Room (2003)

Written by: Tommy Wiseau
Directed by: Tommy Wiseau
Starring: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Juliette Danielle

I've always been vocal about my dislike for how it suddenly became trendy to like bad movies. It's sort of a Mobius loop of hipsterism, in a way. On the one hand, people like you and I have, for most if not all of our lives, enjoyed this kind of thing unironically. Sure, there's a little MST3K smartass in all of us, but at the end of the day I know every single one of my friends could sit down by themselves, with the riffing gland idle, and enjoy watching an Ed Wood or Jess Franco movie on its own merits. We liked it, if you will, before it was cool. On the other hand, it's those damn hipsters and their incessant irony who are encroaching on our territory. It's kind of like spending a decade singing the praises of a great but relatively obscure band and saying everyone is a fool for not liking them, and then they get taken on tour by some well-known band and get a video made and a record on a major label, and suddenly they're everyone's favorite. We don't like to share, and it makes us feel like we suddenly have to justify our hobby and make sure everyone knows we're not bandwagon jumpers, that we were here first. Of course, this is completely silly because it's great if an excellent band gets to quit working at Arby's and make a living doing what they love, and it's also great if a million people get some enjoyment out of a movie (as long as it's not those people who go around telling everyone about Troll 2 like they're the only ones who ever saw a silly Italian fantasy flick, fuck those people). Hey, I never said it made sense, it's just the way we are. Well, maybe it's only the way I am now. It's possible the rest of you figured out how to be zen about the whole thing, but it still makes my blood pressure go up (granted, so does everything else in the world).

All that brings me around to tonight's movie. I won't bother telling the story of how it became a cult phenomenon again, that's been done better elsewhere, and co-star Greg Sestero has a behind the scenes tell-all book coming out later this year that should be a delight to read. What I will say, and what all that blathering up top was in aid of, is that occasionally there comes a movie that really is as bad and weird and goofy as everyone says. It's hard to blame people for latching on to The Room because, speaking as a well-seasoned veteran of bad movie watching, even I have never seen anything quite like it. It's a truly unique experience, bad in ways you never even realized were possible.

The plot is pretty simple. Johnny is a successful banker who is engaged to a scheming skank named Lisa. She's boinking his best friend Mark behind his back, because despite the fact that he showers her with lavish gifts and loads of affection, she finds him boring. Her mother, who starts out telling her that what she's doing is wrong and if she doesn't want Johnny she at least owes it to him to be honest, inexplicably changes her tune halfway through and begins encouraging Lisa's take-life-by-the-balls-and-cheat-on-it approach. All their mutual friends react with a sort of, “Oh, you naughty girl” amusement rather than the horrified exasperation you'd expect of decent people. But that's the whole point of the movie, right there. Tommy Wiseau is telling us that there are no decent people in the world. Hell, the tag line of the movie is, “Can you really ever trust anyone?” The whole thing comes to a head at Johnny's birthday party, which all of the people who are conspiring to fuck him over are nice enough to throw him anyway. He and Mark get in a fight, Lisa leaves him, and Johnny trashes his apartment and winds up fellating a pistol that cums his brains out all over the bedroom.

Mark and Lisa walk in just in time to cry over Johnny's cooling cadaver, and through the haze of his best friend's blood, Mark finally sees what an unbelievable hooer Lisa is and tells her to get fucked. Oh, and Denny's really sad too. Denny is this bizarre orphan man-child (he's not in college yet according to the script but the actor must be at least 25 years old if not older) that Johnny tried and for some reason failed to adopt (maybe he's a registered sex offender). Johnny pays for all of Denny's living expenses and an apartment in the same building while he goes to high school, for which Denny repays him by occasionally popping in and starting a pillow fight while Johnny and Lisa are fucking. I know, right?

And that's just for starters. We'd be here all night if I were to list every bizarre, off kilter non sequiter in the movie. Suffice it to say, whatever your friends have been telling you about it is true. The way I've been describing it to people since I first saw it at B-Fest three years ago is imagine if an alien with no previous knowledge of human language or society came to Earth and spent a year observing. It learned the basics of the English language, what it means to have a job, relationships, and the types of things people do in their free time. Then the alien made a melodrama, and people had names, and jobs, and relationships, and spoke English with all the words more or less correct, but something was wrong. Some fundamental elements of behavior and speech patterns were just a fraction of a degree to the left. I'm not talking about the massively comical fuck ups of a lazy translation from one language to another for a dub or subtitles where whole sentences are made of words that don't belong within a mile of each other and have nothing to do with the action on screen. No, these inconsistencies are small, virtually impossible to explain without just showing it to someone, and therefore all the more glaring and upsetting because it's all so close to being right but at the same time so far away it may as well have been filmed backwards and upside down in another galaxy.

When The Room was shown at B-Fest in 2010, I had heard of it, but knew nothing beyond the fact it existed. Then there was a serendipitous technical botch that resulted in the movie being shown with the subtitles on. There are three ear-meltingly awful faux-R&B songs during the love scenes (one of which appears to have been stolen virtually wholesale by Bruno Mars for his audio atrocity, “Grenade”), which immediately became singalongs, and it was a lot of fun. Most recently, I saw it in its natural environment, at a midnight showing on its 10th anniversary tour. I highly recommend introducing people to it in this way, as several of the group with Malorie and I had never seen it before, and watching them see it for the first time while being showered in plastic spoons was a treat. It's not quite as ritualized as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for which there is a callback to nearly every line of dialog. There are a dozen or so standard gags (my favorite of which is the audience all make MWAAAWWWWM MWAAAWWWWM MWAAAWWWWM! noises during all of the lingering closeups of people making out), and the rest of the time it's a lot like B-Fest, albeit not quite as deafening, where you just yell your own jokes. I started out being a little annoyed by the spoon thing, but eventually gave in and had fun tossing flatware around. And for those of you who think the Dixie plates during Plan 9 From Outer Space are a danger, just you try sitting in a shower of plastic cutlery that someone didn't bother removing the forks from!

The real attraction to this particular showing, though, was the meet-and-greet and Q & A session with Tommy and Greg. They were both very friendly and talkative, Tommy was out tossing a football around with the people in line before the doors opened, and Greg complimented my Rawhead Rex shirt. I've seen them act, so I'm pretty sure it was for real. They spent more time than expected in the lobby of the theater signing autographs and taking pictures (which was annoying for those of us who were among the first to get in, but it's good that they made sure all their fans were taken care of), so the show didn't get started until 1 a.m. (and I still had a two hour and fifteen minute drive ahead of me after the damn movie) and they had to cut things a bit shorter than they usually do, but it was still fun. Someone asked Greg if the relationship between Mark and Johnny was based in any way on he and Tommy in real life and his answer was a cryptic, “You're on to something”. As nice as they were to the audience, they barely even looked at each other the whole time. I guess we have to wait for the book.

As most of you probably know by now, Tommy has retroactively pretended to be in on the joke. The movie is now sold as a “quirky black comedy”, which makes no sense because a comedy has to have jokes in it, and every time someone tries to bait him at one of his personal appearances, he either dodges the question or cannily spins his answer into something completely unexpected. It's entirely impossible that The Room was designed this way. Tommy is a shrewd businessman, but that would take comic genius of a level that would put Monty Python to shame. It's pretty obvious that he poured his heart and soul into this movie, basically using it as an extended psychotherapy session to blarf out all his aggression and angst over being betrayed by those who were once closest to him. When it turned out that his movie totally sucked ass, he had a decision to make. He could either go home and cry that everyone was laughing at his shitty movie, or he could spin it into a cottage industry that would still be paying his bills a decade later. He wisely chose the latter, and it just keeps getting bigger. There is now a whole raft of The Room merchandise available in a mind-boggling array of different price-point bundles. At the end of the day, we can make fun of crappy filmmakers and their crappy films all we want, but I've given Tommy Wiseau money to see his crappy film four times now and I still work 50 hours a week at a dreary, unfulfilling labor job, and post movie reviews on the internet like anyone really gives a damn what I have to say. Who is the joke really on?

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