February 13, 2014

The Room is Tearing Me Apart, in a Good Way

             Director, producer, writer, and actor Tommy Wiseau might not be critically acclaimed, but he certainly is buzz-worthy, and for good reason too. I kept hearing talk about his film entitled The Room (2003)and immediately, flashbacks to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) entered my mind. While they bridge several decades, both are infamous for being ranked among the worst movies ever made. It was then only a natural step to draw comparisons between the two, shall we say, multi-“talented” individuals who set them into motion.

             The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square counts Mean Girls andAnchorman quote-alongs, Alfred Hitchcock’s horrors, and oldies but goodies such as Labyrinth, amongst their screening repertoire. When presented with this quirky bunch, The Room seems to fit right in. February turned out to be the month of The Room, with a few weeks designated to this romantic drama set in San Francisco. All showings sold out, but this might have had something to do with the on-stage appearance of Wiseau and Greg Sestero (the actor who played Mark) for a golden thirty minutes prior to the film viewing for a question and answer session.

Greg Sestero (Mark in The Room, left) and Tommy Wiseau (Johnny in The Room, right) take questions from the audience
             I attended The Room having no idea what I was in for and neither did my flatmate, but we were in the company of our two friends, both of whom were avid fans, and able to practically quote us the entire film before it had even begun. They also managed to sneak a quick game of American football with Wiseau in the foyer. Wiseau and Sestero entered the theatre to fevered chants and cheers fit for kings. Sestero donned a silver quilted jacket à la Ryan Gosling in Drive. Wiseau intimidatingly kept his sunglasses on and rocked his trademark long black hair while oozing confidence and charm. He threw out quips from the film because he knew it’s what the audience wanted to hear.

My friends, Ashley and James, said their “lives were made” after this moment, photo courtesy of Ashley Mulla
             Wiseau answered the questions in a way indicating that the answers were obvious, leading to fits of hysterics from the crowd. He attempted to move the questions along as quickly as possible, but obliged one man by filming a shout out to his friend in Australia. If Wiseau didn’t quite grasp a certain question’s meaning, he would hand it over to Sestero, who actually gave some pretty sound advice. When addressing a man who spoke about his anguish over lost feelings on the side of his girlfriend, Sestero encouraged him to bust out the flowers and step up his game romantically.

             The unintentional comical twosome were polar opposites, Wiseau loving his time in the limelight, no matter at what expense, and Sestero chipping in with succinct sarcasm as occasional flickers of embarrassment loomed over his face. It’s technically a dynamic that shouldn’t work, but somehow did, a logic that can also be applied to The Room.

Photo courtesy of The Room movie website
             Nonsensical at the best of times and downright absurd the whole way through, The Room follows Johnny (Wiseau) and his fiancée Lisa’s (Juliette Danielle) tumultuous relationship. We are led to believe that the couple is happily in love, not least demonstrated by the cringe-inducing sex scenes, until Lisa decides to have an affair with Mark (Sestero), Johnny’s best friend. This is stated innumerable times. Despite the advice from her doting mother (Carolyn Minnott) suggesting that she stay with Johnny because of his financial stability (“Because you’re a woman!” is called from the audience at this point), Lisa rejects this notion and continues on regardless. Johnny finds out (and hides a tape recorder that magically appears to document the proof), which leads to his ultimate demise.

Johnny (Wiseau) and Lisa (Juliette Danielle) loved up, photo courtesy of The Room movie website
             This plot is not exactly weak, but in its delivery and continuity is where the true comedic value lies. Lisa’s mother boldly states that she does in fact have breast cancer in one scene, but this is never developed or restated later on. Johnny, Mark, neighborhood kid Denny (Philip Haldiman), and friend Peter (Kyle Vogt) play a game of football (one of many) casually dressed in tuxedos for no apparent reason. Random characters appear in Johnny and Lisa’s house at their leisure (Michelle [Robyn Paris] and Mike’s [Scott Holmes] tomfoolery, anyone?), but nobody seems to be fazed!

Lisa gets cozy with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Sestero), photo courtesy of The Room movie website
             Not only that, but the house guests never close the front door (“Close the door!,” jeered the moviegoers). Perhaps this is because the characters spend an inordinate amount of time saying “hi” to one another only to leave and come back again. Denny is threatened by a man with a gun (Dan Janjigian) because he doesn’t have his drug money. Luckily, Johnny, Mark, Lisa’s mother, and Lisa appear just in time to save the day… speaking of Lisa, is everyone just in love with her?! Apparently yes. Johnny, Mark, and Denny openly admit feelings for Lisa in the film, but guessing by the audience’s boos, they didn’t share the same sentiments. Lisa lies about being pregnant and Johnny announces at his birthday party, “We expecting!,” and no, that is not a typo. 

Playing happy families; oh, hi Denny! (Philip Haldiman, center), photo courtesy of The Room movie website
             I will without a doubt have to re-watch The Room. Situated in a group of seasoned fans-come-hecklers, I could hardly keep up with some of the dialogue due to the fact that the fans were quoting the movie en masse, overriding the actors’ voices. The audience involvement is what escalated the hilarity of the experience, and it certainly was an experience. Footballs were not allowed inside the theatre due to health and safety reasons, but that didn’t stop the crowd from calling out in unison the number of football passes exchanged between alternating characters. Plastic spoons, however, were thrown at the screen every time an unexplained framed photo of a spoon on Johnny’s living room table showed up.

Who’s up for a game of football?, photo courtesy of The Room movie website
             Drinking games have even been established in conjunction with The Room. Criteria includes but is definitely not limited to drinking whenever Johnny laughs, when Mark and Johnny are referred to as best friends, any time Johnny says “hi” to someone, or whenever there is a transitional or establishing shot of San Francisco. If you feel the need to get rip-roaring drunk, that’s the surefire way to do it.

Bottoms up!, photo courtesy of The Room movie website
             Wiseau spent six million dollars of his own money to create The Room, but it only earned 1,800 dollars at the box office. Sestero has published a book called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, a read about the ins and outs of being a part of such a unique project. However, despite how negatively The Room has been perceived, good on Wiseau for taking the criticisms in his stride and embracing the fact that moviegoers might be laughing at his film. We’re also laughing with him, because it’s impossible not to get a light-hearted kick out of this now undeniably quotable cult classic. Wiseau obtained his vision in a roundabout way; he’s a star in his own right and recognized, even if mockingly, but recognized nonetheless for his achievement with The Room. Even James Franco has joined the bandwagon and is set to direct a film about the making of The Room in the not too distant future.

             As Johnny famously cries, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa,” and that is exactly what The Room did to me; it tore me apart and had me in stitches all in one. The Room has been upgraded from one of the worst movies of all time to the best worst movie of all time. Bravo, Wiseau. It was so bad, it was good.

             See what else is playing at the Prince Charles Cinema here.

A star was born…photo courtesy of The Room movie website

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