SPECIAL MOVIE REVIEW!
THE ROOM (2003)
By L.L. Soares
There’s a long history of movies that are considered “so bad, they’re good.” And one of the best in recent memory is THE ROOM by Tommy Wiseau. Since it was released in 2003, it has gone on to become a cult favorite, with midnight showings across the country and even audience interaction (supposedly, at key scenes, the audience throws plastic spoons at the screen, among other things). The “cult” began on the west coast and is slowly creeping east (there were midnight screenings in Boston and New York this year), and there’s good reason for this. The movie is pretty hilarious. But it may be hard to explain why in the course of a review.
The story, for what it is, centers on Johnny (Tommy Wiseau, who also directed, wrote and produced the film) and Lisa (Juliette Danielle), a young couple who live in San Francisco (there are lots of shots of the Golden Gate Bridge) and are in love. Or are they? When we first see them, they are telling each other how much in love they are, Johnny has bought Lisa a sexy red dress, and they go upstairs for an awkward soft-core sex scene that goes on for awhile and has awful soft rock playing over it. But things are not so rosy in the world of THE ROOM.
We next see Lisa talking to her mother, Claudette (Carolyn Minnot), and telling her how much she hates Johnny, and that she doesn’t want to marry him (even though they are supposed to get married within a month’s time!). She says Johnny is boring and while he can offer her financial stability, she doesn’t love him any more. Claudette, for her part, tells Lisa to stay in the relationship, and get married, because money is better than happiness, but Lisa doesn’t agree.
Lisa then goes on to seduce Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), who seems completely baffled when he comes over for a visit and finds Lisa coming on to him, but who quickly succumbs to her wiles. Lisa tells him it’s him that she loves and she doesn’t want to be with Johnny anymore. Mark gives lip service to the fact that “Johnny is my best friend,” but five minutes later he’s up in her bed, and they have a long, awkward sex scene with bad soft rock playing over it.
When Johnny doesn’t get a promotion at the bank where he works, as he was promised, this appears to be the last straw for Lisa, who gets him drunk (he normally does not drink, but she convinces him it will make him feel better) and then later tells people he hit her (but he didn’t). She does nothing but talk trash about Johnny behind his back, yet when she’s around him, she only tells him how much she loves him.
Among the other strange characters who come for regular visits are Denny (Phillip Haldiman), a rather simple young man who Johnny wanted to adopt at one point, and whose college tuition is paid for by Johnny. Denny sees Johnny as a father figure, and loves him dearly. He also has the hots for Lisa. Denny is an odd boy who in one scene follows Lisa and Johnny up to their bedroom because he likes watching them (!) – they kick him out so they can be intimate – and in another scene is almost killed by a drug dealer he owes money to named Chris-R (Dan Janjigian), who holds a gun on Denny but it taken away when Johnny and Mark intervene.
There are also Michelle (Robyn Paris) and Mike (Scott Holmes) who sneak into Johnny and Lisa’s apartment to do some “homework” while the place is empty and have sex on the coach.
As more and more people find out Lisa’s secret (she doesn’t feel compelled to hide it from too many people), her friends plead with her to be honest with Johnny and break it off. That he doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. But Lisa seems to truly enjoy screwing around behind Johnny’s back. There’s a real hatred there, that is never explained or explored except when she says things like Johnny is “boring” or she doesn’t love him anymore. She also implies that he treats her badly, even though we see no evidence of this. In fact, he seems to worship the ground she walks on.
Things culminate at Johnny’s birthday party, where everyone is invited and Lisa and Mark have an angry argument, which should finally tip Johnny off, but he’s still rather slow at coming around to the realization. When he does, Mark and Johnny have a couple of scuffles, and when Lisa finally leaves Johnny for good, there are tragic consequences.
Interspersed between all this are several scenes where Johnny and his buddies toss around a football in various locations (this seems to have real significance, but really doesn’t), Johnny calls a couple of his friends “chickens” (“Cheep cheep cheep”), people constantly walk in and out of Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, often without knocking (as Claudette says in one scene, “It’s like Grand Central Station around here”), and at one point, Claudette tells her daughter that the tests have come back and she definitely has breast cancer (Lisa tells her she’ll be okay, then switches the topic so she can complain more about the fact that she doesn’t love Johnny).
The acting is pretty awful throughout, although Wiseau has a certain charisma, even when he is spouting lines badly, laughing at inappropriate times, and being emotionally confused (at one point he can be shouting with anger, and suddenly calm down to say “Oh, hi Mark.”). No matter how bad his acting abilities are, Wiseau is definitely watchable, and hilarious. The rest of the cast isn’t much better, although the very strange and awful script (by Wiseau) probably makes them seem worse than they are. Their motiviations are often muddled and often things are said or done that make no sense.
Aside from Wiseau, who looks like a muscular Frankenstein Monster with long black hair and has an oddly Eastern European accent, the next most entertaining performance here is definitely Juliette Danielle as Lisa. Lisa is the villain of this piece, even if she refuses to acknowledge it. The way she’s able to declare her love for Johnny in one scene, and then run him down to her friends and mother in others, is pretty funny (although everything is played completely straight – which is the charm of this film).
And what exactly does the title mean? What is THE ROOM? I am sure it must refer to the bedroom upstairs in Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, since this is the only room we go to several times, but what, exactly, is the significance of THE ROOM? Why is it the title of this movie? What makes it so special and different from any other room?
Sure it’s badly acted, badly written, and nobody acts or says things like real people act and speak, but that’s what makes THE ROOM such a classic of its kind. This movie really needs to be seen to be believed, and if you’re a fan of “so bad they’re good” flicks, you owe it to yourself to check this one out, if you haven’t seen it yet.
My only real complaint is that Wiseau hasn’t made more films like this since. In 2004, he made a serious documentary about homelessness called Homeless in America (which he directed with Kaya Redford) and has appeared in a few other short films (one called The House That Dripped Blood on Alex is especially hilarious) and the occasional odd TV show (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on the Cartoon Channel’s “Adult Swim”), but he hasn’t made any other feature films since 2003. No THE ROOM PART 2 or anything equally enjoyable. Why not? I’m sure I speak for everyone who has gone to a midnight showing of THE ROOM, and most people who have watched the DVD in the privacy of their homes, when I say “Please Tommy, make more movies!” One is definitely not enough!!
We want more of the magic you gave us with THE ROOM!
In a strange bizarro world where tossing around footballs is an important, manly ritual and calling someone a chicken is the greatest insult, where sudden, inappropriate laughing and crying are the norm, I would give this movie four knives.
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
(A special thank you to Robert, Kathleen and David for introducing me to this one!)