It was inevitable that someone would bring Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) to town. After all, this is the current cause célèbre in the realm of bad cinema—a film so spectacularly awful and inept that it exerts a perverse fascination over the viewer, along with a fair share of unintentional laughs. Here is a movie so utterly incomprehensible that the IMDb threw in the towel on their movies you might enjoy if you liked The Room and came up with Buffalo 66, Gone with the Wind, Freeway and The Assassination of Richard Nixon as suggestions. Even by the often peculiar reasoning of the IMDb, this is an extreme mix. The only thing these movies have in common is that they’re all better than The Room. That, however, could be said of 30 to 40,000 other movies.
I first heard about The Room several months ago from fellow critic Luke Y. Thompson, who had just had “The Tommy Wiseau Experience” for himself—and was obviously still trying to believe the reality of it. Wiseau is the writer-director-star of this thing, and he has to be seen—and heard—to be believed. (Even then you may well believe he’s some kind of CGI effect gone wrong.) Wiseau is an unattractive fellow who maximizes his unattractiveness by insisting on sporting about two feet of matted black hair. Nicolas Cage has more believable wigs than this, and this is apparently real. Then there’s Wiseau’s accent, which can best be described as sounding like someone with a speech impediment attempting an Udo Kier impression. That he follows almost every line with a little laugh takes us from the unpleasantly inept into the realm of downright creepy. To say that he writes and directs exactly the way he sounds pretty much says it all.
The movie itself has only a vestigial plot. Wiseau—despite the fact that he sets off your sleaze-o-meter every time you see him—is this nice guy named Johnny with a girlfriend, Lisa (Julierre Danielle), who can best be described as a duplicitous bitch. After living with Johnny for five years (or seven depending on where we are in the script), she suddenly decides he’s boring and she doesn’t like him. That it took her five years and not five minutes is truly remarkable. Rather than address the issue, she proceeds to seduce and ensnare Johnny’s best friend (Greg Sestero).That’s pretty much all the story there is—except that it, of course, leads to Tragic Consequences that play like comedy.
No description can really prepare you for the sheer dreadfulness of the movie—and that, of course, is its appeal. It’s far worse—and more incoherent—than anything Ed Wood ever did. In tone, it’s weirdly similar to those dismal dramas Hugo Haas cranked out in the 1950s—most of which starred the unattractive Haas as an older man being abused by a younger woman with whom he’s besotted. In execution, it’s somewhere between a TV soap and soft-core porn (Wiseau likes his sex scene so much that we see it twice). In the end, it’s an indefensible mess that exists only to be laughed at for its stupefying incompetence, which is its current raison d’être and why it’s taken on a Rocky Horror cult status. It simply begs to be mocked. How badly it begs can only be appreciated by seeing it.
The DVD case tries to sell the film as a black comedy, but it’s painfully obvious that Wiseau thought he was making a deep drama and this tack is merely an attempt to make The Room more palatable. It doesn’t work, but it adds another layer to the weirdness of it all. Wiseau—who frankly seems like a visitor from another planet—appears to accept the fact that people find the movie funny without seeming to quite understand why. Somehow it keeps reminding me of the story when a friend once called Ed Wood to tell him that Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959) was being show on TV, only to have a tearful Wood ask, “They aren’t laughing at it, are they?”