Retro Review: The Room

Distributor: TPW Films (theatrical), Wiseau-Films (DVD)… They’re still both Tommy Wiseau.

Director: Tommy Wiseau

Writer: Tommy Wiseau

Composer: Mladen Milicevic

Starring: Tommy Wiseau, Greg (“Sestosterone”) Sestero, Juliette Danielle

Genre: It’s meant to be a serious drama, but it’s really a comedy.

Rating: R

Back in 2003, the cinematic art form was forever altered. Whether it was ultimately for the better or worse is still debated. As if to unconsciously challenge Ed Wood’s legendary failure, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Tommy Wiseau boldly produced, wrote, directed, acted and otherwise created a film that early critics likened to “being stabbed in the head.” With atrocious reviews, it garnered attention from curious audiences nonetheless. Despite the film’s utter incompetence, in the years following its debut, The Room has developed an impressive cult following, frequently touted as being one of the best, worst movies ever made in cinematic history.

Its unexpected success has meant that The Room’s cast and crew have found fame in the most unconventional of ways. Greg Sestero, one of the supporting cast members, wrote about his horrible experiences on set in his book, The Disaster Artist, published in 2013. If the title looks familiar, that’s because the book is now a motion picture, starring two of the Franco brothers. With the release set for next month, we at GUG figured it was time to take a look at the atrocity that started it all.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: A drug dealer tracks down a person who has wronged them and threateningly points a gun at their head. A character commits suicide by shooting themselves in the head via the mouth. When the body is found in a pool of blood, others dramatically weep over it. There are a number of fistfights, which consist of grown men grabbing each other’s forearms and pathetically tussling and shoving each other to the ground. Some viewers find Wiseau’s naked backside to be grotesque.

Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb (and its variations) is dropped twelve times. B*tch is said twice, while the s-word and its variations are also said a few times. God’s name is used in vain, while words like h*ll are also uttered. Characters also call each other names, like “chicken,” before then cheeping and flapping their arms.

Drug/Alcohol References: Two characters get completely drunk off vodka and scotch. Alcohol, such as wine, is drunk socially during a party. One character is seen smoking marijuana and offers it to another character. It is declined and the idea of taking drugs is rebuked. Drug usage is heavily implied; in one scene a drug dealer attacks a character, asking for payment. However, apart from this moment, there is no apparent evidence that the character is taking drugs.

Spiritual Content: None.

Sexual Content: This film is infamous for its gratuitous sex scenes. They are unnecessarily long, altogether taking up over ten minutes of the movie’s total runtime. There are five sex scenes. A woman’s breasts are seen for extended periods of time. A man’s bare back and buttocks are seen, along with every muscle grossly tensing as he shifts on top of the woman. While filmed like a soft porno, it is considered by many to be the most unromantic footage they’ve ever witnessed. While not directly shown on camera, one scene heavily implies oral sex (woman pleasing the man). There is also a moment when a man holds a dress against his pants and thrusts into it, as some kind of perverse metaphor. To find out more about this content, please read the dedicated section in the review below.

Other Negative Content: The main plot revolves around a bored woman who cheats on her boyfriend (A.K.A. “future husband”) by sleeping with his best friend. The other characters sometimes condone her behavior. The dialogue for female characters is heavily stereotyped and occasionally misogynistic. One character laughs callously at inappropriate moments. A young adult develops a creepy attraction towards a woman who is already seeing someone else. Characters think it’s appropriate to randomly walk into someone else’s place and have sex. A woman lies to all her friends about being pregnant and doesn’t find that to be an issue.

Positive Content: The Room portrays the tragic consequences of infidelity and betrayal of friendships. This is highlighted by the fact that the main character is a sincere, genuinely nice man that looks after all those around him. “If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live”. Yes, we can, Johnny. YES. WE. CAN!

Review

Being one of the most nit-picked and freeze-framed films in existence, what can be said about The Room that hasn’t been said already? Tearing it apart is the equivalent of searching for a negative comment on the Internet about Donald Trump’s presidency. There’s no sport in it. Besides, my name isn’t Lisa. Badum-ching!

While there’s nothing necessarily new to discuss, The Room’s epic levels of incompetence (and why it racked up a $6 million budget, along with how it was sourced) is still a mystery that many fans continue to mull over years after their first viewing. What is it about this film that’s so intriguing? For those who haven’t seen it, how bad is bad? And does it have any redeemable qualities? But before we delve into the failings of each department, there’s one question that must be answered first…

How to watch The Room?

There are several ways to get your hands on this movie, though none of the options are overly easy. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a film-loving area, then The Room may still be playing at your local cinema! Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, interactive midnight screenings of The Room occur from time to time, with the sessions frequently selling out.

Nosediving directly into this cultural phenomenon, the rowdy crowds can be intimidating at first, though you’ll soon find the atmosphere contagious. In its early days, audience members would heckle the screen relentlessly, with the best jokes naturally being repeated over time. Eventually, a culture developed, with certain rituals being done each session.

At the start of each screening, it’s typical for patrons to be handed a sheet containing a set of ‘rules’, or rather a list that summarizes the behaviors that are normally performed. For example, shouting, “GO, GO, GO!” whenever there’s a panning shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, loudly counting how many times a football is passed around, or most famously, throwing plastic spoons towards the screen whenever a spoon is spotted in the film’s set decorations.

Thankfully the cinema normally provides the spoons, though old-timers know to grab a massive handful. Don’t grab just one! If you don’t like small pieces of plastic hitting the back of your head, then make sure to sit in the last row. However, sitting further forward in the cinema means you’ll be able to replenish your spoon ammunition, as the barrage of spoon-throwing works like a Mexican Wave, with all the cutlery slowly ending up in the front row or at the base of the screen.

Step right forward and grab your spoons!

Word of warning: if you’re sensitive to swear words, then it may be best to give these sessions a miss. It’s an environment that promotes heckling, and a lot of the time there’s an audience member that just loves to shout inappropriate things. While it will differ from place to place, most of the time the print out of the rules contains swear words, particularly the f-bomb.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to seeing The Room at the cinema. Since people normally view films in a reserved, laid-back state, these sessions are a great way of teaching ourselves that in this case, it’s okay to be loud and to mock, because it is a bad movie. Watching it for the first time with mega fans is also a great way to ‘fast-track’ your understanding as to what makes it so horrid, as these sessions have a way of highlighting the film’s worst crimes.

The best part is that the film’s creator, Tommy Wiseau, has been known to attend these screenings, along with supporting actor, Greg Sestero. They play games before the screening and hold competitions as to whom in the audience can do the best impersonation of the film’s main protagonist, Johnny. They also have been known to hold a Q&A session afterward, though Wiseau has famously never answered questions about his ethnicity, past, or how he funded the film.

The downside with seeing it at the cinema is that the heckling is so loud that you can’t actually hear the stilted dialogue. This is where watching it in the comforts of your own home is beneficial. The Room is available on DVD (and Blu-Ray!), though it’s hard to find, with many fans sourcing it from the official website. In the past, it has also been available on free-to-air and pay-per-view channels. Some will say that the full movie is also on YouTube, but please note that listings on that site are not legally sourced.

Watching it at home loses the sense of camaraderie that’s developed at the cinema, though inviting a few friends over may help to set the cheerful mood. Without an inquisitive sense of playfulness, The Room can be a drag to watch. However the problem with the cinema is that the rules and traditions can lock viewers into seeing the film only in one light; like stale jokes passed down through the eras, preventing people from experiencing something fresh. Watching it home allows a person to find the nuances in this atrocious piece of cinematic history, along with the power to rewind and fast forward.

In truth, it would be best to watch The Room twice; once at the cinema, and once at home. The cinema offers a better introduction, though it can only be truly ‘appreciated’ with a night in with friends.

That moment when I realize that I’m cursed with small, little hands.

So why is this film so bad?

Where do I even start? Greg Sestero literally wrote a book on the subject, making The Disaster Artist a fascinating companion piece to The Room. Since half of it goes into great detail about the crafting of certain scenes, it’s one of the rare cases where the book needs to be read after watching the movie. While this means going into the film ‘blind’ with no factual information about what happened behind the scenes, it does allow the opportunity to ponder over how such an incompetent piece of filmmaking could have ever been produced. The Room is a rare cinematic treat where we can witness every single department failing their assigned tasks.

Indeed, it’s hard to figure out which element is the strongest. With so many faults, I’ve decided to break things down to each department and to offer just a few of the many explanations the book offers.

The story

The Room’s plot is definitely not the film’s strong point. Based on a simplistic affair, the story could be told within fifteen minutes or less of screen time. Instead, we are entertained with a revolving door of characters that have no impact on the plot whatsoever, and entire scenes that are completely disjointed from the narrative’s spine. Incredibly serious topics, such as drug dealing and a breast cancer diagnosis, are introduced in scenes only to never be mentioned again. In a reverse example, one character announces they are pregnant, but there’s no scene previous that builds up to that moment.

Effectively there’s very, very little that’s established or explored further in the story, leaving only a handful of scenes that actually link together thematically. Since stories are never told this badly in theatrically released films, its discombobulating narrative is head-scratchingly hilarious, with random characters entering, announcing pointless details, then leaving as awkwardly as they arrived.

In the book we learn: Tommy Wiseau had a habit of requesting new additions to the script on the fly, to be filmed immediately with little to no preparation.

Ten minutes before the film’s dramatic conclusion is a great time to introduce the new character on the left!

What’s with all the sex scenes?

One can’t really talk about the story without also taking a moment to address the naked elephant in The Room. There’s a reason why many heckle, “Is this a porno?” Within the first few minutes of the film’s opening act, the audience is assaulted with two incredibly long sex scenes. There are others later on. The issue isn’t necessarily the presence of the intimate sequences–since they are natural additions considering the film revolves around the topic of infidelity–but rather the problem is in how they are filmed.

As a working actor, I frequently stumble across audition listings requiring people to bare all, but “not to worry”, as it will be “tasteful.” I never apply, so I cannot be certain as to what exactly “tasteful” nudity means, though after watching The Room, it’s safe to say that it provides the exact opposite. In an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry complains about his girlfriend who spends hours lazing about his apartment naked, and while it sounds fantastic, he laments that there are actually many actions that just shouldn’t be done in the nuddy. “Bad naked,” they say.

This is the closest I can get to describing just what went wrong with the sex scenes in The Room. They feel like they are inspired by pornographic films, and yet this film does not belong in the same category. Have you ever seen an R-rated comedic film where one character has to quickly cover their television before they’re embarrassingly caught watching adult entertainment (though what we actually see of the film-within-a-film isn’t pornographic, as that would alter the rating, rather it merely gives the impression that it’s one)? Well, The Room could easily take the role of that movie playing in the background.

It’s the cheesy cliché. The epitome of all overly romantic sex scenes in cinematic history, fielding all the tropes. Slow motion kissing, rose petals and candles everywhere, fake smiles and laughter; a strong sense of dissonance is created within the audience because while all these images feel familiar in some way, as they are so cliché, it just does not work the way it is intended. Slop in some unprofessional framing, horrid focus pulling, and “bad” nakedness to boot!

On top of this, the scenes last forever, either because it’s an egotistical decision from Wiseau, or he is too much of a novice to realize that one can cut a song halfway (yep, the sex scenes last as long as the tune, which therefore feels you’re painfully watching everything in real time). After seeing The Room, one can easily understand why so many films “fade to black”! The movie drives home the fact that “less is more” certainly applies when it comes to sex scenes in movies!

As for what the Christian response shall be, this film is an interesting case study. If your stumbling block is nudity in itself, then due to the sheer length of the scenes, and the distasteful framing of a woman’s breasts and man’s backside, I cannot recommend watching this film. However, if nudity by itself isn’t an issue for you, rather it’s the response it tries to elicit from the audience (such as titillation or lust, which is what draws the line between pornography and other, normal films featuring sex scenes) then The Room is as safe as they come.

I can’t declare that no one finds the scenes sexy, but the vast, vast majority of people find the scenes rather revolting. I personally find it fascinating to see a convulsive wave of repulsion ripple through the audience as very few films have the power to elicit this response. The fact that it happens during scenes that for all intents and purposes should be making us drool in lust, only adds to the intriguing conundrum of The Room’s hilarious levels of incompetence.

So don’t worry, there’s nothing to fantasize about here!

In the book, we learn: Tommy Wiseau felt he needed to bare his backside in order to sell more tickets. The editor begged for the scenes to be removed, as his wife complained that seeing Wiseau’s naked body was too scary!

No, Denny. You’re not being totally creepy.

The script

Juvenile and utterly basic. There’s nothing nuanced about it. Characters say exactly what they’re thinking, verbalize necessary plot functions (such as their reasons for why they are entering or exiting the scene), and detail the ho-hum aspects of their life. Some conversations are too natural, spending a minute with “How are you?” small talk that dramatic scripts normally slash because of their tediousness. Other conversations are horribly stilted, because all the characters talk like Tommy Wiseau, and unfortunately his handle on the English language is not the greatest. Then there are the famously over the top lines of dialogue (“I definitely have breast cancer”, “You’re tearing me apart Lisa!” and effervescent “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket”) that we’ve all grown to love.

However, the most criticized aspect is Wiseau’s depictions of female characters. Horribly failing the Bechdel Test, every conversation revolves around one of the men. To make matters worse, none of the women seem to work (then again, barely any of the men seem to have a backstory either), so they laze around, gossip, and for the rest of their screen time they talk about how important it is to be cared for and have financial security in a relationship.

In the book we learn: Despite Tommy Wiseau’s difficulties in learning his own lines, the other actors weren’t allowed to alter their lines at all, with Wiseau ignoring their pleas in wanting to make the dialogue sound more naturalistic.

Acting

Directly linked in with the problems with the script, the actors cannot sell the lines. Their delivery ranges from being overly dramatic to not even trying, as deep down in their tortured artistic souls, they know that not even an Oscar winner can make their scenes remotely believable. Suffering take after take, the actors begin to pre-empt their reactions, resulting in a performance that’s cheesy, horribly stilted, and oddly, incredibly unique, as it’s a quality that cannot be replicated.

It is commonly debated as to who is the best actor in The Room. It’s certainly not the lead, Tommy Wiseau (Johnny), since he can barely string a few sentences together and reacts inappropriately to everyone else’s lines. Greg Sestero’s Mark shows promise, though it’s clear he loses engagement with the project halfway through. Whiny and hideously spiteful for no discernable reason, Juliette Danielle’s Lisa is universally hated, while poor Philip Haldiman is stuck playing Denny, a character that’s neither a man nor a child, but something creepily in-between. Greg Sestero concedes the best actor is Dan Janjigian, who plays the hypo-energetic drug dealer mysteriously named Chris-R. Then again, he only had to suffer acting through one scene…

In the book we learn: Not only were the actors refused to change up their dialogue so the lines could roll easier off the tongue, but some actors were suffering from heat exhaustion and even a concussion whilst on set, due to Wiseau’s excessive demands concerning attendance and poor OH&S procedures.

Kyle Vogt (Peter) acting while suffering a concussion. What a trooper!

Cinematography

When it’s done well, the framing of the scene is not noticeable, but when the quality dips, it’s hideously ugly and easily apparent. Some shots are blurred, as though they forgot to roll focus. In some scenes, the shot is so clustered that only half of an actor’s face is in the frame. Panning shots take forever, while there are other instances where the camera doesn’t move enough. This is the only film where I’m simply thankful they at least remembered to remove the lens cap.

In the book we learn: The Room ended up burning through three sets of crews. With the shoot taking way longer than initially anticipated, and with the work not reflecting the amount of effort they had put into the production, the camera team eventually stopped caring, and yes, actually did forget to roll focus!

The set/production design, editing, and lighting

These departments are surprisingly linked when it comes to The Room’s production quality. The rooftop set is notorious for featuring an unnecessary, large green screen, which was poorly constructed, then badly lit, which meant it ended up looking atrocious even after the editor tried to resuscitate the scene in post.

For the most part, the biggest oversight is in regards to continuity. While there’s an example of every department slacking off, it’s most obvious with the set, where props instantly teleport from one shot to the next, flipping and rotating around in their positions, or disappearing completely. The lighting (when the scene is properly lit) also seems to originate from different places depending on the shot used. To cover up these mistakes, or to try to draw the audience’s attention away from the fact that the layout of Johnny’s apartment makes no sense, the film cuts to wide shots of San Francisco, just in case the viewers happened to forget where the story was set.

In the book, we learn: The production design team didn’t provide enough knickknacks to decorate the apartment, so Tommy ordered them to purchase photo frames, though not to go so far as to bother putting real photos inside. This is why there are pictures of spoons around the set, as that was the stock photo when purchased.

Costume

If they’re not ill-fitting, then the costumes are hilariously inappropriate in the context of the scene. Those are the two options when it comes to The Room’s wardrobe. Going with the first choice, we’re treated to a scene where Lisa is complimented for looking gorgeous in her new, badly clingy and unflattering red dress. As for the second option, the most famous example is when all the male characters wear tuxedos for no reason whatsoever, except to later pass around a football in the expensive suits. This is essentially the spectrum of The Room’s costume design.

In the book, we learn: Despite having access to a seemingly bottomless pit of money, Tommy Wiseau decided to skimp out on the budget for costuming, frustrating the designer and forcing her to scrounge around in clothing bins. Wising up to this fact, actor Robyn Paris simply brought her own clothes in, which is why Michelle is the most fashionable character in the movie.

Just one of many passes while wearing an oversized tux.

Sound and music

If you find the sound to be a little off, you’re not alone. The Room appears to rely on ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) for a couple of scenes. For the non-initiated, this means that the lines were dubbed at a later date, and it’s usually required when there’s an issue with the live recording. It’s not ideal and Hollywood productions try to avoid it wherever possible because it never syncs up perfectly and the dialogue always sounds more stilted compared to when it’s spoken in the heat of the moment.

The music, however, is actually okay… Wow, have we finally come across a competent element in The Room? The main piano theme is pleasingly melodic; a touch above a soundtrack one might expect in an elevator. It’s not the best match for the movie considering the themes of betrayal and the breakdown of friendship, but comprehending how badly everything else has been handled, it’s gold! The other songs, such as “You’re My Rose” by Kitra Williams, which features during one of the movie’s infamous sex scenes, is so delightfully tacky that it has become a fan favorite.

In the book, we learn: The boom operator and recordist did an incredibly poor job, with a lot of the sound clips on set being deemed unusable.

Makeup

With the exception of Tommy Wiseau looking like he has dumped a bucket of greasy water from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill over his hair, there are no major complaints here. Finally, my friends, we have discovered the best department in The Room! Well done, makeup! You actually did your job!

In the book, we learn: No amount of spray was ever enough for Tommy’s hair–he always wanted more.

So what’s good about it? Why do people watch this?!

That’s the million-dollar question (or six million dollars in this case), isn’t it? It’s difficult to articulate the fascination fans have with this film. The movie contains so many mistakes and quirks that it cannot be comprehended in a single viewing–something new is noticed each time. The first watch consists of giggling at the film’s absurdity. On the second visit, observers begin to ponder over how it came to exist; were the cast and crew so deluded to believe they were shooting an Oscar-winning production, did they not care, or is this one big troll? In the third stage, once used to The Room’s non-traditional approach to narrative storytelling, viewers tend to find Johnny to be a classic underdog figure, and actually, begin to partake in Wiseau’s unique worldview.

It’s interesting because it’s different. Like a recipe filled with mistakes and unplanned experimentation, no one can ever intentionally create a film like this. We’ve been conditioned to receive stories that are the by-product of the input of thousands of people, lead by business-minded corporations. Very rarely do we witness a film that has captured the heart and soul of one person’s perspective of the world, and Tommy Wiseau’s is both intriguing yet tragic. He plays the role he has always desired–an all-American man–living what he perceives to be the ultimate dream, though the world around his idealized character falls apart.

It may be foolish to read too deeply into this film, though art naturally does reflect the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings. In any case, there’s an endearing quality regarding both Johnny’s journey and Tommy Wiseau’s struggles to find acceptance in an industry that normally shuns people like him. That’s why The Room deserves a look when considering some of the most influential movies in cinematic history, as it’s a piece that can never be replicated, or thankfully rebooted.

You may be the most mysterious and misunderstood person in Hollywood, but we still love you, Tommy Wiseau!

Positives

+ Entertainment value

Negatives

- Everything else you can possibly think of.

The Bottom Line

The Room is technically pathetic in every conceivable category. However, since that’s an achievement in itself, the hilarity it unintentionally produces deserves a 10/10 for pure entertainment.

 

0.7

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Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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