Singularly united with everything from avant-garde art cinema to particularly slap-happy children’s television in its haphazard deconstruction of normality, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is awful, but it is much more than mere irony. A textbook case in the value of logically inept cinema, The Room hedonistically exists in a state of blithe, blessed-out surrealistic irrationality, boldly and provocatively plunging forth without inhibition into a realm of new human possibility. Whether intentionally or by accident – and indeed, the intent of The Room has been the stuff of bad movie legend for many a year – this sort of implacably incompetent cinema is valuable not merely for cheap thrills but because, by buckling at basic competence and refusing to kneel before the platitude of human logic, it refuses to exist in a known or previously understood state. Rather than functioning obsequiously to modern society’s basic preconceptions of human action, rationality, and interpersonal relationship, Wiseau’s improbably disfigured creature joins many a great and many an awful film in daring to envision a ground-up reimagining of how humanity actually functions as a collective unit.
In other words, while The Room is palpably, dazzlingly dysfunctional, it also, perhaps inadvertently, functions as an interrogation of what “functional” actually means, and how constructed such a term – be it functional filmmaking logic, functional English syntax, or even functional human nature – might be. The Room is a film without antecedent, a work of writing, acting, and directing in uncharted territory from a parallel universe where cinema, and possibly human behavior, is inextricably dissociated from ours.
Paradoxically investing in its story like it has a death wish to arrive at the conclusion while also schlepping around like it can’t be bothered to advance its narrative in any semblance of a linear fashion, The Room contains the distant rumor of a story about a male – alien? rhinoceros? pile of cardboard? – named Johnny. Played by mastermind of the film Wiseau, he discovers – in comically infinitesimal slinks of narrative momentum – that his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle) is maybe perhaps having an affair with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Admittedly, the whole thing is more of a closet rampage than a narrative proper, but you take what you’re given in the realms of psychotropic, worldview-interrogating cinema like this. `
With just a hint of Oscar Wilde in his bones, Wiseau’s improbable screenplay is corrosive cirrhosis of the English language of a heretofore undiscovered nature, a toxic deluge of missing verb tenses, subject-predicate disagreements – nah, subject-predicate restraining orders – and spasmodic interjections pitched somewhere between aneurysm and masturbatory exclamation. Almost coital in its self-congratulatory demeanor, nearly every line is delivered as if sputtering through a fire hose, shouted like the dying words of a bellicose theater actor whose career in silent cinema was actively being invaded by the advent of sound in their life. It’s a little like being introduced to the English language for the first time, breaking down the cartilage of sentence structure until we reimagine the language we usually take for granted and finally consider it the constructed, constantly fluxional moving target it actually is.
The bilious scene-to-scene structure is only ratified by the encouragingly torrid filmmaking, a volcanic white water rampage of over-baked shot selections and sweltering, fetid edits that cut like some byzantine labyrinth of cross-darting rhythms out of a universe that has never heard of continuity before. The first malodorous sex scene between Lisa and the grotesquely rippling Wiseau – whose muscles seem like they are in heated argument with his body, trying to escape with every flex – is the undeniable apex. Well, it would be if it wasn’t for the fact that its initial instance is copy-pasted again in the film with nary a refilmed shot, making the reappearance the real acme. Presumptively meant to indicate different instances of intercourse, the repetition deliriously invites the human mind away on an escapade of self-discovery questioning what exactly constitutes the temporal realm in a film at all. Time folds in on itself as the film’s diegesis – complete with characters whose relationships alternate, seemingly, between having hardly met and hugging like bosom pals – disrupts itself and reestablishes its own rule-set at nearly every turn. As a film, it asks us to discover it as it explores itself; we reinvestigate its sensibilities, its regulatory structures, its core ethos in an active, time-stamped way as we plunge into the nebulous knowledge that our basic grasp of cinematic architecture can be so easily redistributed or malleably transposed at will. The Room is a breach of contract on everyday sense.
On a scene-by-scene basis, The Room is possibly the most structurally broken film of the past fifteen years, a fact that is irrelevant next to the palpable charisma with which it dives headfirst into its outsider-art ambitions. There’s the from-another-script otherverse of Philip Haldimann as Denny, delivering a noxiously menacing performance as a child of indeterminate age who appears offhandedly from time to time as Wiseau’s assumedly adopted son who lives … in the world somewhere? In between instances of Haldimann almost admitting that his sole mission in life is to watch his adopted parents engage in intercourse, an elderly lady stumbles into the screen with a one-off line about having breast cancer. This last thread is quite literally (and that isn’t merely a film critic’s liberal application of the term “literally”) never mentioned again in the film.
But The Room is the gift that keeps on giving. Another wringer involves a psychiatrist character who spontaneously disappears only to be possibly recast as another man who is never explicitly stated to be the same person but who fulfills the same “advice-giving” role in the screenplay. “Who” these fleshy spaces on the screen are, what a film character is at all, becomes a glorious question mark; our ability to represent the screen and translate it to our preconceived understanding of human existence washes away.
Irreparable and obnoxious it may be, but The Room is much more the progeny of the sterling, stagnancy-rejecting likes of Last Year at Marienbad or Days of Heaven than a more timid sycophant of a film like, I don’t know, The Imitation Game or Forrest Gump. The latter two films – trivial in their filmmaking and dour in their prognosis for artistic innovation in cinema – do as they are told. They let bygones be bygones and thaw themselves out into the mainstream groove of straightlaced cinema. Something like The Imitation Game, Ray, Mississippi Burning, or Gandhi, with all their false proclamations of “true story” prophecy, merely seeks to inform, to express a “truth” with all the ingratiating self-aggrandizing belief that they know the secret essence of a past event that we mere mortals do not know the half of. They announce that something happened and maybe express some surface-level vision of why and how it happened, but these proposals are carefully cleansed of any imaginatively challenging broken ends or exploratory tangents. This vision of knowledge is cursory and preordained to accept the rules around it; these films (most all films) simply let us know that a happening occurred, rather than reimagining our understanding of what “happening” might mean. While The Imitation Game envisions itself as a paean to a social outcast, it is, ironically, about as prim and proper, as respectable, as middle-of-the-road a film as you might imagine. In its desire to cater to the norms of the general populace, it is a conceptual disgrace to the idea of “outcasts” everywhere.
Great and awful films, high and low brow cinema alike, can belong on the more rebellious, rarefied alternative path, where assumptions about normality and human action are not assumed to conform to that which is already known. This avant-garde impulse, this bold denunciation of reality as it is assumed to be the case, burrows into more unsettled realms than a work of entertainment which merely seeks to illuminate that an event happened. Rather than simply informing us of an event, these alternative films, The Room among them, accidentally or not, seek to reenvision “the event” as a concept, or the idea of an event, an action, a being. These films revoke cinema as it exists; they seek to break down, to obliterate, to reimagine, to envision, rather than simply to inform (a weak film’s verb of choice). They create the building blocks of their own lives, rather than paying lip service to innovation while they cool their heels and fall in line.
No mere “bad” cinema, The Room investigates an “out” for human nature, a vision of existence that doesn’t in the slightest care for the figments of propriety or good taste most films hold dear. Commandeering your preconceptions of existence, it descends into the cinema-melting deep end of a hysteria-fueled pool that holds nothing sacrosanct and runs amok with the mental compartments with which we organize our lives, scraping away everything but the basic simulacrum of a cinematic self and then liquefying the bones of filmic representation just for kicks. Embezzling from our basic associative principles of character recognition and our idea of “self” at nearly every turn, The Room asks that we reconsider everything we know about film.
How good is it?: Inapplicable/5 (no mere mortal can quantify such an unruly Frankensteinian conglomerate, but anyone with an interest in cinema should see it)
Sure, but how “good” is it?: 5/5 (essential inept cinema, possibly the most howlingly transformative, scorchingly funny collection of minutes I’ve ever had with a film)