Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Room

In 2003 an unknown filmmaker called Tommy Wiseau wrote, produced, directed and stared in the independent film The Room. Although thousands of independent movies are released every year, Tommy’s was different. The Room was perhaps the worst film ever made and has since gained cult status, growing with popularity all the time as it is discovered by new people. If you search for The Room on YouTube you will find clips with views in their millions and about two years after first being told about the film, I finally watched the entire thing today. Although I’d seen the clips and had heard the stories, nothing could quite prepare me for the ninety-nine minutes I saw. I have never seen a film that was as bad as The Room but I have seen plenty which I have enjoyed less and although billed as a drama, I laughed as much as I have during any film this year.

The plot centres around three people in a love triangle. Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a fairly successful banker living with his fiancĂ© Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who is a bit of a bitch. Jonny piles his unusual love on her and they seem very happy together but she has eyes for his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Lisa begins an affair with Mark who is at first worried about destroying his friendship with Johnny but soon finds Lisa too irresistible to ignore. Lisa’s mother get’s cancer but this is swiftly ignored and never mentioned again. Johnny begins to get depressed and becomes even more incoherent that usual. Then he pets a dog and plays football in a tuxedo. Mark becomes increasingly agitated and as a result his beard sometimes disappears only to come back in the next scene. The film comes to a head at Johnny’s birthday party where Lisa invites all of Johnny’s friends. Johnny tells her that this was a good idea but is still suspicious about his fiancĂ© and best friend…

From that brief plot summary you can probably guess that the narrative is all over the place. Almost nothing makes sense or is explained but at the same time it isn’t as though thoughts or actions are implied, they are always spoken. Conversations begin and end abruptly; often with someone arriving at Johnny’s house only to say they have to go a few seconds later. Sentences don’t follow on from each other and lines are delivered without emotion or with the emphasis even on the correct words. Some of the dialogue is undoubtedly hindered by Wiseau’s thick accent but thankfully his accent also causes some of the biggest laughs. The dialogue is nonsensical from start to finish and often forgotten immediately. One famous scene has Lisa’s mother announce that she has breast cancer. Two sentences later this is forgotten and never bought up again. Conversations don’t sound like conversations and situations are strange and unnatural.

While the script is terrible, technically the film is probably worse. The opening credits resemble a kind of Dog Day Afternoon imitation as Wiseau’s camera pans up and then pans down on shots of San Francisco, interspersed with fades which are far too quick. The panning up continues throughout the film for most of the cut scenes. Other problems include very shaky camera work which often struggles to find focus and oddly framed shots which sometimes leave a person off camera for no reason. The production sorely missed access to another camera. I counted three sets which all look fake and limit the scope of the narrative. There is the living room set which is where the majority of the plot unfolds. This set features a front door which is where characters come and go, often without explanation or reason and some stairs which Tommy can hide on. The stairs also lead up to the second set, the bedroom. This is where the majority of the seven or so excruciating sex scenes take place. The final set is a rooftop set with contains a rickety looking doorway and greenscreened backdrop. Whilst watching I felt harsh for judging the quality of sets and camerawork amongst other things as the film was produced independently but then I found out that it cost an estimated $6 million!! I have no idea where that money went but it is certainly not on the screen.

Early on there is the first of many awkward sex scenes. Johnny returns home from work and gives Lisa a present. Inside the box is a red dress which gets both of them horny so they decide to go upstairs. Luckily they weren’t hungry as there is no kitchen set. On their way up stairs another character walks in and jumps on the bed with them. Although odd in itself the stranger thing is that he appears to be a child or teenager and seems to have no idea that what he is doing is a little strange. The character then leaves with no explanation as to who he was or why he was there and the couple go about making love to porn-sax and late 90s boy band music. The sex itself is the least erotic and most disturbing I’ve ever seen on film. The sight of Wiseau’s clenched buttock with stay with me for a long time. Just in case we didn’t quite get enough of it though, the same shot is repeated later on.

The child character turns out to be Denny, an orphan who Johnny has put up in an apartment until he graduates. That is all we ever get to learn about his back story. The character is one of the stranger things in an already strange film and at times acts very childlike but then all of a sudden is an adult. It’s really odd. Wiseau has since stated that he wrote the character to be ‘retarded’ but other than his bizarre personality and inability to spot social norms there is little to support this idea. Incidentally Wiseau has also described the film as a black comedy when it clearly isn’t; it is a terrible, messed up drama. Along with Denny’s odd behaviour and sporadic appearances, other characters come and go for no reason. Late on two characters are hastily added to the group of friends around Johnny almost as though Wiseau suddenly thought it would be good to have a psychologist work out what is going on and another couple of guests for the party. The second character appears first after about eighty minutes and soon after confronts Lisa over her actions and what they mean for their friendship group. This is a group that he was seemingly absent from until just a few moments earlier.

Acting wise, this film is in a class of its own. I have honestly never seen such bad acting from a supporting cast but they don’t come close to writer, director, producer and star Tommy Wiseau. Tommy has the look of a drugged zombie whose been forced to listen to Justin Beiber songs for a full week. He never looks as though he knows where he is or what he is doing and his voice has strange peaks and troughs in pitch and volume which rarely match the words coming out of his mouth. His face never changes from his confused norm and his mouth barely opens which along with his accent make his lines look dubbed. Occasionally Tommy will take it to eleven and deliver a line in a way which seems improbable at best and totally mental at worst. One of the most famous lines comes when Tommy is accused of hitting Lisa (although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know at that point that she has accused him). He storms onto the roof shouting “I did not hit her, I did not… Its bull shit, I did naaahht. Oh hi Mark”. The lines are presented in such an unbelievable way that I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the cast and crew were thinking at the time. Their agents must have been getting a right ear full. Tommy’s tour de force comes late on when (SPOILER ALERT) he discovers what is really going on between Lisa and Mark and trashes his apartment. This scene reminded me of an angry chimpanzee who has woken up in a house and is desperate to get back to the jungle. His arms swing around and he very gently knocks over some draws, pushes fruit out of a fruit bowl and moves pillows around.

As I mentioned before the film is littered with inconsistencies. Around half way through a side plot opens up as Denny is threatened with a gun on the roof by a drug dealer. After Tommy saves him he states that he bought some drugs and now owes money. This is then never mentioned again. Later four characters appear at Tommy’s apartment in tuxedoes for no apparent reason and then decide to play football. There are numerous scenes and passages of dialogue that make little or no sense and some scenes feel like they are in the wrong order.

The film features a lazy soundtrack which is full of the sort of songs you’d hear in those late 90s Channel 5 films on a Friday night with titles like Legal Briefs or Impassioned Liaison. They all have an air of sleaze about them and have names like You’re my Rose, Baby You and Me and Crazy. These songs are often used during the sex scenes while the rest of the film contains music which can only be described as musac. 

Everything I’ve mentioned above adds up to one of, if not the worst film I’ve ever seen but giving The Room a rating is tricky. Technically it is no more than a 2/10 but I enjoyed it enough to give it a 6 or maybe 7. At times it is incredibly uninspiring and dull but every couple of minutes the nonsense and boredom is punctuated by a line like “Leave your comments in your pocket!” Or “Hello doggy” and then Wiseau’s face will do something weird and we’ll hear a conversation along the lines of “I have cancer” “Lets play cards” “But you’re a psychologist” Women!” “I’m going now” “Hi”. The film makes for compelling viewing and even if you never see it I highly recommend spending five or ten minutes watching the best bits on YouTube.  


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