“The Room” Experience
Article by Ray Schillaci
There have been nearly fifteen years of screenings of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on which James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is based. Last night, A24 invited me to a screening, joining me was my 23 year-old son and my pal Paul Preston. Both were very eager to see the film. What I didn’t know was my son had already seen it before, and this would be the 8th time for Paul. Hell, the AMC Sunset Dine-In 5, theater 5 (where the film originally premiered) was packed, and 3/4 of the audience had already seen the film multiple times. What could I have been missing?
I heard the rumors now and then about a totally inept writer/director/actor who had created one of the worst movies ever made. I have heard and seen the strange vampire looking fellow with his sour face and the name of his movie plastered on a huge billboard overlooking Hollywood and Highland that stayed up for about five years, but I was never aware of the cult following. In fact, the only thing I was aware of was the film cost $6M to make and only made a paltry $1,800 in its initial release. Needless to say, I had no interest until I saw the trailers to The Disaster Artist. My curiosity and interest peaked when I saw the crowd standing in front of the theater very excited as they were given plastic spoons.
The Room is no Rocky Horror Picture Show, but in its own way, its writer/director/star/producer and the film is an altogether horror show of how not to do a movie. To say this film is bad is a gross understatement. It’s as if we were asked by someone else to step inside the mind of Tommy Wiseau, but were not actually invited in by Tommy.
Here’s the kicker, you don’t actually want to see this atrocity of a film at home by yourself unless you have a desire to own it, subject your loved ones to it while snickering in the background, all the while having a secret desire for underwear designed by Tommy Wiseau. Yes, if you order the Blu-ray from his website, he’ll send you his designer underwear. He provided an absolutely awful commercial for his clothing line before the film.
Sometimes I have scratched my head over how a film becomes a cult hit. In the early 70s, writer/director John Waters took to igniting the screens with his own brand of seedy sinema that launched a huge cult following not only for himself and his films, but also for his star, an obese drag queen anointed Divine. Waters’ films were bargain basement with Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living. But, even his films had better acting than what Wiseau displays.
I understood how Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult hit. It was all kitsch put to great music. Its audience reveled in the fun of it all, and here is where I might find the appeal to Wiseau and his film. The joke is his lack of talent and how awful the film is. It may be worse than anything Ed Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda) ever concocted. But we, as the audience, are in on the joke that Wiseau is oblivious to.
He (and the film) either grows on you or repels you, and that can happen in the first couple minutes with one of the most ill-conceived exploitive sex scenes ever filmed. It’s laughable softcore with exaggerated grinding and moaning. The prelude to the actual sex is just as awful. It looks like it was conceived by a twelve year-old that happened to watch too many soap operas with mom.
Wiseau has people kissing as if they are eating, moaning in sexual pleasure as if they are cows being led to a slaughter and facial expressions that are exaggerated like an old, bad silent movie. But it doesn’t stop there. Continuity problems run rampant. Sets are obvious along with a set design that is so weird. He has pictures of bottles and utensils, an obsession with water and his idea of male bonding – throwing a football around (in a park, an alley, on a roof, and in a room).
It’s hard for me to describe Wiseau’s The Room, because this movie is not about the simple story of a guy who is jilted by his girlfriend with his best friend. It’s the experience of watching what is taking place, and laughing with the rest of the audience over the antics of a man/child who has gone nuts with a cast and crew that is nearly as untalented as him.
Wiseau is a marvel to watch. He has one expression for everything. It’s painful to watch him try to emote while he struggles through his dialogue. The rest of the cast look like A-listers next to him, but they come across like bad little theater.
Then there are all the little annoying parts that end up being funny. Doors are rarely closed. A number of overly long pan shots of San Francisco bay. Tommy’s near gagging sex scenes. The mother of the girlfriend reciting lines with one annoying tone including a mention of having cancer. People walking in and out of scenes just for the purpose to announce something. Spats of dialogue that make no sense. Dubbing problems that are worse than bad foreign films. A totally different actor appears playing someone else. For some reason the original actor was no longer available and Tommy worked with it. And, the list can go on.
But, the audience revels in this awfulness, and it turns out that the real star of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room IS the audience. It’s gleeful fun as they shout at the screen and throw spoons. Wiseau inadvertently created a masterpiece of crap that insists on audience participation on its success. This is why so many are looking forward to Franco’s The Disaster Artist. But perhaps the most telling part about Wiseau’s disaster is the title itself, The Room. That title makes as much sense as everything else that he has fabricated for our enjoyment.
This film is the equivalent of a car fire on the freeway. Everybody slows down to look. They can’t believe what they are seeing. The only difference, no one is harmed, and people are actually partying over this wreck…of a film.