Deeper Into Movies: “The Room” (2003)

The Room
Wiseau Films

The cinematic experience that is The Room could only be the result of Trig Palin writing, directing and producing a feature-length movie with only a working knowledge of Cinemax softcore and a Wikipedia plot summary for the Book of Job. It is, without a doubt, the worst movie I have ever seen. Of course, the gulf between “worst movie” and “least enjoyable movie” (hello, Le Divorce) is often a wide one, and The Room fills that considerable expanse with two hours of inexplicably heart-warming delirium.

Much like the Cinemax films of yore –- a reference that may be lost on the ChatRoulette masturbators of today -– it’s filmed with nostalgically soft camera work on no-budget sitcom sets, scored by unintentional self-parodies of ‘80s torch songs. There’s even the traditional tedious half-hour “plot” break in between the early rush of sex scenes and, well, more sex scenes. Although calling the multiple close encounters in The Room sex scenes would be a stretch. They share the requisite moaning and thrusting, to be sure, but the movie’s protagonists spend as much time pillow-fighting and pouring rose petals over each other as they do appearing to attempt the act itself.

Further like the late-night classics that seem to be the film’s grounding influence, The Room passes the time between its bedroom romps with a paper-thin plot: Johnny (Tommy Wiseau, the incredible human being who wrote, directed, bankrolled and stars in this Homeric epic), a generous banker who dotes on his live-in fiancee, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), has his gullible heart broken by her infidelity with his male model best friend, Mark.

Wiseau’s performance is the funhouse electricity that powers the entire film. He’s like Conan the Barbarian combined with Pee Wee Herman, from his ridiculous Fabio hair and dilapidated face to his onomatopoeic laugh. His cadences and vocal mannerisms, from the much-YouTubed “Oh hi, Mark” scene to the boiling point of “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” (the film’s “I’m sick and tired of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane”), are a source of ongoing, seeing-is-believing comedy. That Wiseau was possessed by the spirit of the muse to invest a reported $6 million and multiple years of his life into The Room should be the stuff of legend.

At this point it’s been at least a paragraph since I’ve used the word “inexplicable,” so: The Room is nothing if not a sequence of one inexplicable event after another. There are a dozen, and probably twice that, scenes where Lisa confides in her mother or a friend about her cooling feelings for Johnny, then abruptly cuts off the conversation with “I don’t want to talk about it” — I can only imagine Wiseau cranking out page after page of his screenplay with this zinger and high-fiving himself for building tension. Mark tells Lisa he can’t sleep with her because Johnny’s his best friend; he then proceeds to sleep with her multiple times while blaming her for seducing him with her beauty. Lisa’s beauty, by the way, is another of the film’s more ridiculous running threads – even Denny, Johnny’s 18-year-old ward (I’m not even going to get into this except to say that he has the most amazing Jonathan Taylor Thomas haircut), is obsessed with her. No offense to Juliette Danielle, but girl ain’t exactly Helen of Troy over here.

Lisa’s lies eventually snowball into a final act maelstrom, but it’s the little idiosyncrasies that make The Room so magnificently watchable. Like the scene where all the male characters appear (inexplicably, of course) in their tuxes, with Johnny and Lisa’s wedding still a month away and not a camera in sight, followed by the boys throwing a football around in an apparently necessary demonstration of manhood; the continuity error between how long Johnny thinks he’s dated Lisa (7 years) and how long her mom says she’s known him (5); the Denny/gun-toting drug dealer scene, which is the movie’s most entirely baffling moment until a mammoth pay-off an hour later; other couples randomly hooking up in Johnny’s apartment; every scene with Lisa’s mom, especially the one where she reveals she’s dying; and finally, the climactic party scene where Mark punctuates the discovery of his affair with the indelible “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket.”

Yes, on every level imaginable, The Room is terrible. For crying out loud: it was shot simultaneously on 35mm film and an HD camera. But it’s this thoroughness of failure which makes the film such a landmark. Its very existence, like string theory or Sarah Palin, is enough to send the mind reeling. Actually watching it? When you enter The Room, leave your sanity at the door.

(Further reading: a just-as-unreal A.V. Club interview with Tommy Wiseau)