Retro Review: The Room

The Room poster

Never in the history of cinema has such a bad film gained so much notoriety. It was conceived by an enigmatic immigrant who saw it as his chance to make it big, only to be promptly ridiculed by the public for its many, many errors and later adored by millions for the same reason.  And with good reason, for there’s something oddly charming about The Room.

Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a banker who lives in San Francisco with Lisa (Juliette Danielle), his fiancé – or, as everybody in this film refers to her, his “future wife”. While Johnny believes he is living in a perfect relationship, Lisa does not share that same view, and is growing weary of their time together. To make her life more interesting, Lisa decides to have an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), an event which will lead to the characters tearing themselves apart.

Before that happens, though, there is a bizarre array of secondary conflicts to contend with, including the revelation that neighbour Denny (Philip Haldiman) is attracted to Lisa, Lisa’s mother Claudette (Carolyn Minnott) announcing that she has breast cancer, Denny’s owing of a debt to his drug dealer and Greg’s own problems with drugs. These subplots are problematic on two counts: they distract from the potentially interesting love-triangle between Johnny, Lisa and Mark, and they have no connection to the central plot whatsoever.

Partly – in fact, wholly – to blame for these problems is Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, financed, produced and directed The Room, in addition to playing the role of Johnny. The feature is Wiseau’s first and, to date, only credit as a director, and it’s not difficult to see why. The editing is peculiar, the green-screen effects aren’t the least bit convincing, the plot is laced with continuity errors, the dialogue is unintentionally laughable, Wiseau’s dubbing is terrible, and the supporting cast look disinterested throughout – and who can blame them.

Long after ceasing its initial theatrical run, Wiseau would claim that The Room was made as a black comedy, and that its many absurd moments were intended to be funny. Whether this is true or not, there’s a great deal of fun to be had at The Room’s expense. If one doesn’t find themselves chuckling at the dialogue, they can at least find joy in Wiseau’s inability to read his lines, or his over-the-top acting, or the fact that his script repeatedly uses the same phrases over and over again – Tommy obviously isn’t familiar with Roget’s Thesaurus.

Because its ineptitude is plain for all to see, many tend to overlook The Room’s better aspects. Yes, even here, in a release oft-dubbed “the Citizen Kane of Bad Movies”, there are elements of professionalism, such as the main theme by Mladen Milicevic; the brief moments of informality, like Johnny explaining how he and Lisa met; the second-unit photography of San Francisco’s surrounds; and the R&B soundtrack, even though it sounds out-of-place. At the very least, these positives prevent The Room from being crowned The Worst Film Ever.

Although it is undeniably bad, this reviewer could never bring himself to dislike The Room – there’s something ever-so-fascinating about its incompetence that makes it quite the disarming experience. Some will find Tommy Wiseau’s project a burden rather than a blessing, but for everyone else, there is no greater source of joy.

4 stars

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