I thought I had experienced it all. But I was wrong.
If you’ve seen THE ROOM on DVD, you’ve been privy to the spectacle. But until you’ve experienced it live at the Sunset 5, you have no fucking idea.
I did some Internet searches before going, hoping to find some reviews of the movie from when it first came out, to see how it was received. All I found was one paragraph by Scott Foundas in Variety, saying it was the kind of movie that made people demand their money back in less than 30 minutes. Nothing on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB links or MRQE. I need to remedy this.
I also learned that writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau, in addition to purchasing that humongous billboard on Highland that’s been up for 3 years now — effectively making him the new Angelyne — actually submitted this thing for an Academy Award, and took out a full page “for your consideration” ad in Variety. How can he do that? Let us merely note that he claims to have raised $6 million for his movie, and the film itself looks it was done for AT MOST $100,000. And that’s assuming no-one involved in the production got a good deal on anything, though the credits note that part of the movie was shot “on location” at the Tommy Wiseau Stage.
So why all the fuss, you may ask? What IS this movie?
In one sentence, it’s the story of a guy whose fiancee is cheating on him with his best friend. But that’s like saying CITIZEN KANE is about a guy who misses his sled and then dies.
Here’s the official synopsis submitted to IMDB by the producer:
“The Room” is an electrifying American black comedy about love, passion, betrayal and lies. It has five major characters. Johnny, played by Tommy Wiseau is a successful banker with great respect for and dedication to the people in his life, especially his future wife Lisa. Johnny can also be a little too trusting at times which haunts him later on. Lisa, played by Juliette Danielle is a beautiful blonde fiance of Johnny. She has always gotten her way and will manipulate to get what she wants. She is a taker, with a double personality, and her deadly schemes lead to her own downfall. Mark, played by Greg Sestero is a young, successful and independent best friend of Johnny. He has a good heart, but gets caught up in Lisa’s dangerous web and gives into temptation. This eventually brings him to great loss. Claudette, played by Carolyn Minnott is the classy, sophisticated mother of Lisa who has had disappointing relationships in her life. She wants her daughter to be married as soon as possible so she can benefit. Denny, played by Philip Haldiman is an orphan boy, naive and confused about life, love, and friendship. Denny is very ambitious and also very grateful to the people that are in his life. “The Room” depicts the depths of friendship and relationships in one’s life and raises life’s real and most asked question: “Can you ever really trust anyone?”…..Are you ready for this quirky new black comedy?….Are you ready to see reflection of your life?,,,,”Experience this quirky new black comedy, it’s a riot!” “Director Tommy Wiseau’s style is reminscent of Tennessee Williams.”
Note the quotes attributed to nobody. Initially pushed as a drama, the movie has been re-pushed as a “dark comedy” due to its newfound cult of people who laugh at it, not with it. Dark? “Dork comedy” would say it better.
Let’s start with Wiseau himself. Vaguely resembling Lurch’s shorter brother, he speaks with an accent that seems to combine Arnold Schwarzenegger with Cousin Balki and Pepe Le Pew, usually concluding every sentence with a half-assed effete laugh. I’m not sure if he even exists in this dimension — he seems to be on another plane of existence from the other actors in his film. Check out the terrifying animated “gleaming eye” version of Tommy on the official site.
Now, bear in mind that he cast himself as a romantic lead, including some nude sex scenes (actually just one that gets re-used twice). The man is in shape, but his body has a weird texture that resembles papier-mache, and makes you suspect that maybe he got third-degree burns as a kid. During the sex scene, he appears to be humping his costar’s navel.
Another weird quirk is that Tommy, who in a humongous acting stretch plays a character named Johnny, insists on greeting every character who enters frame, every single time. So most of the dialogue is taken up with lines like “Oh hiiiiMark, wha’s new wit’ you?”; “Oh hiiiDenny, wha’s new wit’ you?” There’s even a scene with a dog where he says “Oh hiiiDoggy!”
There’s a character who casually mentions that she has breast cancer, only to never speak of it again. There’s a drug dealer referred to only as “Chris R.” who shows up with a gun and then disappears, with the apparent assumption that he’ll turn himself in. There are repeated scenes on a fake “rooftop” with the San Francisco skyline bluescreened in. There’s a scene where everyone is wearing tuxedoes, apparently for Johnny’s wedding, except that we later learn his wedding is weeks away. Lots of football tosses from people standing three feet away from one another, which Wiseau claims is supposed to give the audience the idea that they don’t have to play by the rules.
There’s a soundtrack mostly featuring songs with choruses that repeat the same phrase endlessly. “You are myrose you are myrose youa re my RO-O-OSE/You are myrose you are myrose youa re my RO-O-OSE” That is the height of creativity compared to “I will I will I will I will I will I will I will I will…”
Characters we’ve never heard of suddenly show up as if they’ve been part of the story since the beginning, in one instance to just randomly have sex in their best friends’ living room. A tape recorder apparently keeps running for several days, somehow only managing to record the one incriminating conversation it needs.
You get the idea. I’ve seen plenty of bad movies as a critic, and even several that are fun in a bad way, but none so monumentally inept and yet gut-bustingly funny at the same time. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE gave me nowhere near as many belly laughs. Tommy Wiseau is a bit like Shatner or Schwarzenegger before they became self-aware. Wiseau does get that people think the movie’s funny, but I’m not convinced he understands why. Or that he understands English.
Now, when this movie plays at the Sunset 5, Wiseau shows up. As do a vocal crowd of fans who’ve memorized the movie and know exactly how to point out the glaring errors of the film in the funniest possible way.
Wiseau begins with a Q&A. Most movies do this AFTERWARD, so that people have a chance to see the thing before asking questions, but never mind — many of the audience are diehard regulars (I may join them).
I wasn’t taking notes at the time, but roughly paraphrasing, here are some of the questions and answers:
“Did Lisa ever get that twitching neck thing taken care of?”
“Ha, yes, well, maybe in the sequel we’ll do a move about it, did you say twitching or witching? Because it could be like witchy-witch, you know? Haha.”
“Did you realize Lisa was that fat when you hired her?”
“No, but you shouldn’t say fat because it’s not a good word.”
“No, that’s two words. You have to substitute one word with one word.”
“Were you influenced by the existential angst of Dostoevsky?” [the guy had to rephrase this question three times before Tommy got it]
“No, I have no influences. I influence myself.”
“What’s your favorite movie?
“I like Awesome Welles”
“Who’s Awesome Welles?”
Then, Tommy decided to show off his improvisation skills by asking the audience to pick a word, after which he would tell a story involving that word. The word was “push-ups.” And the story was something like: “Remember the part where I’m in the park running? I’m running and running, and then I got down to do push-ups, and this woman was running by and she went over me because I was down on the ground, and I looked up and I saw two apples.”
Unfortunately no recording was allowed, so that’s not word-for-word. But close.
And then the movie got going. Moving pans across the San Fran skyline elictied the chant “go! go! go! go!” and the word “ALCATRAZ!” yelled out every time the famous island showed up. Every time there was a random cutaway to unfamiliar scenery, someone would yell something like “Meanwhile, in ROME…”
One of the set decorations is a framed photo of a spoon. Whenever it shows up onscreen, everyone yells “SPOON!” and throws plastic spoons in the air. People clap along to the songs. Not all of Tommy’s onscreen greetings to other characters are acknowledged, except for the charcter named Denny, whose every appearance is greeted by the audience with a loud “HI DENNY!” Think of Norm on Cheers.
It’s truly weird that this ineot little movie has become a grassroots cult phenomenon, but there you go. Hedwig and the Angry Inch tried for similar status, but isn’t there. SHOWGIRLS attempted a revival as camp. But this verges on ROCKY HORROR in its screening vibe. I don’t know if it would be as amazing if Tommy didn’t show, though.
The next screening is June 24th, same night as the Press Club awards, and it’s the third anniversary. If I get done in time, I’m going.