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Ravings Of A Film Fanatic: The Room

Words by Nicky Dean

What is The Room? A film with the passion of Tennessee Williams? A sexist, misogynist vanity project, acting as catharsis for its writer/director/star, Tommy Wiseau? One of the worst films ever made? A confusing, self-absorbed mess of cinema? One of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time?

The Room is all these things and more. Admittedly it requires a predilection for bad movies, but for those who can stomach such experiences The Room is a thoroughly entertaining ninety minutes. For everyone else, it’s a complete waste of time – a mind-numbing, baffling excursion through the delusions of a control freak. But what do they know?

The Room follows the ups and downs of the saint-like Johnny (Wiseau) as he goes about the business of being a misunderstood, genius bank-employee and fiancé extraordinaire to Lisa (Juliette Danielle), the love of his life. Sadly, Lisa – being a wicked harlot – is dissatisfied with her lot. Johnny is so attentive to her needs and is such an amazing lover that she feels suffocated and bored, and uses her feminine wiles to seduce Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg “Sestosterone” Sestero). As the wedding approaches, tempers fray, vicious rumours are spread, mothers look disapproving, doggies are greeted, and the bank continues not to listen to Johnny’s plan to make them a ton of money. How will it all end? (Clue: definitely not the way you think it will.)

The film apparently cost $6 million, although you’d be hard pressed to work out exactly where all the cash went. There are no big-name actors (some would argue there aren’t even any actors) and the sets are few and simple. Perhaps Wiseau’s decision to shoot simultaneously on 35mm and digital explains a lot of the cost. Presumably the rest went on bad CGI, inexplicably used to provide backdrops for rooftop scenes. Why Wiseau opted against simply filming on actual rooftops remains – like much of The Room – a mystery.

To list The Room’s many problems is to give away half of the fun, but to get a sense of just what you’re dealing with, here are a few choice tid-bits. Wiseau constantly uses establishing shots of San Francisco between scenes, just in case you forget where you are. (It should be noted that being in San Francisco is of absolutely no consequence. It’s not like there are any car chases through its streets or anything.) Characters turn up and take part in important exposition (or have sex) without any introduction or subsequent establishment. The music is some kind of awful early-nineties R&B, although the film appears to be set in the present day. Possibly the most heinous crime is the lengthy, dull sex scenes, some of which even re-use footage from earlier.

The Room opened in America in 2003, doing little to no business; not even the offer of a free CD soundtrack was enough to draw the punters in. Yet with its terrible production values, abysmal acting, appalling script, and sub-plots that disappear just as suddenly as they appear, The Room soon found a cult following amongst those with a penchant for So-Bad-It’s-Good movies. Responding to its peculiar quirks and charms, audience participation quickly became a staple of screenings The Room, with fans devising a series of rituals to go with its many bizarre faults: plastic spoons are hurled at the screen; cries of “focus” or “who are you?” are heard frequently; American footballs are tossed back and forth; the list continues. As far as movie experiences are concerned, it’s in a world of its own, surpassing sing-a-long musicals and fancy dress screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I was fortunate enough to see The Room at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, where most of the audience were already pretty clued in; those that weren’t managed to pick up the calls and their cues quickly. The atmosphere was euphoric, with more laughing and cheering than most genuine comedies can achieve. Bewildered by its sheer inanity and desperately trying to understand exactly what was going on, everyone became united, staring agape at Wiseau’s odd perceptions of male friendship and female trickery, uncertain quite how to take it.

Wiseau now claims that he intended it to be the way it is – that in reality it’s a black comedy – and even attends screenings, giving a Q&A afterwards. While it’s easy to mock the film and Wiseau’s about-face, in interviews he comes across as charming and somewhat naïve, and there’s a certain braveness in the way he offers himself up onscreen, exposing all his misunderstandings and feelings of betrayal, which ultimately make it hard not to root for him. Beyond all the ill-conceived notions of how to make a movie lies a man who feels somehow wronged by the world, and is seeking to make sense of it, hoping to put right what once went wrong or at least gain some kind of acceptance from those around him – a friendly hand on the shoulder, reassuring him that we sympathise. The fact that the results are so catastrophic makes it a joy to behold, but perhaps its enduring cult appeal is buried somewhere in this sadness.

The Prince Charles Cinema continues to hold monthly screenings of The Room and I urge you strongly to go. It’s a truly unique experience that really cannot be replicated at home. Forget 3D – if ever an argument were needed to get up and go to the pictures, The Room is it. And if you ever figure out which room the room is, I’d love to know.

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