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The Room

I wrote this review upon first watching this film, seven years ago. I saw it again in anticipation of The Disaster Artist, a movie about the making of The Room. On second viewing, I was aided by Spanish subtitles, which helped me realize that it does have some warped emotional coherence, even a sense of humor (God forgive me). Still, I stand by what I wrote:

This is probably the hardest film review I’ve ever attempted to write. It’s taken me three days to wrap my mind around this one. I knew The Room was bad, but I was not prepared for the barrage of human maladroitness that inundates the screen on every frame.

It is a credit to the film that once its interminable duration is over (the longest, scariest, most ridiculous hour and a half of your life), you cannot stop thinking about it. Diagnoses about the precarious state of mind of the auteur fly: autism, creative sociopathy, terminal narcissism, repressed homosexuality, Transylvanian abandonment, abject cluelessness, brain injury. My guess is: pretty much all of the above. The Room is a treasure trove of questions about the mysterious ways of the human mind. It is also perhaps the absolute worst movie ever made. But there is something strangely endearing and quixotic about it. Where do I begin?

There have been great terrible directors in the history of film. Ed Wood is the best known example. In Mexico we had Juan Orol, a master of involuntarily absurd kitsch that could mash up ten genres in a single film (zombies, gangsters, cowboys, rumberas, you name it). But these auteurs somehow followed rudimentary notions of human drama. I don’t mean drama in the fictional sense, but the natural drama of the daily exchanges in real life. If a mother says to her daughter: “I have cancer”, the daughter should somehow acknowledge the receipt of such information. If someone says “I want a glass of water”, the other person doesn’t say “Basketball”. But in the case of The Room, the rules of human interaction don’t apply.

We are in a parallel universe. The writer, director, and main actor who purportedly spent 6 million dollars on this extraordinary clunker is a ghoulish creature by the name of Tommy Wiseau. A nom de plume? Who knows. We ascertained that his accent sounded vaguely Eastern European. I think he is a direct descendant of Vlad the Impaler, but he also sounds Brazilian to me (or to be quite honest, like a person who has worked very hard to mask a speech impediment). Perhaps he is the spawn of Zsa Zsa Gabor and an ancestor of Giselle Bundchen, by way of Fabio. In any case, he seems to be operating with only half a brain. If Tommy has seen a play, a movie or a TV show in his life, it is clear he has not learned absolutely anything from it. Not even how to imitate it. He seems to be illiterate at life. It’s like those people who cannot recognize distinct emotions. This movie has no affect. The feelings the actors try to imitate are barely recognizable. Wiseau’s reactions as an actor are completely divorced from reality. This is enormously creepy.

The movie is shot in San Francisco and in a room made of cardboard, with props made of styrofoam. According to the “behind the scenes” (oh yes), it was shot both in 35mm film (there go $3 million) and video HD. The crew members look like crew members, not the director’s cousins, so there go the other $3 million. However, regardless of film stock, The Room looks pretty awful. Not so much because of the avant-garde camera work, but because of the art direction. Instead of shooting at a friend’s apartment, the worst set in the history of sets was built for the occasion. The centerpiece of this set is a midget spiral staircase in the middle of a room the size of a broom closet that leads to nowhere and that seems to have been made of plywood and dented bicycle handles. In every softcore sex scene there is always either a film of gauze, or rain trickling down a glass. There are also long stemmed roses (symbolic of pure love). However pure the love, the sex scenes concern themselves mainly with the humping abilities of Tommy, who, as someone told me, looks like a slab of gristly steak.

There is no point in talking about the plot except to say that it is a trip into the subconscious of Wiseau — in his sympathetic view of himself, a misunderstood sensitive, who is deeply hostile towards women yet professes to love them (Macho Man 101) and who has unresolved, if not unromantic, homoerotic tendencies (Macho Man 102). There is a scene where men in tuxedos throw a football at each other, nobody understands why. It is impossible to talk about the plot of this film without losing your marbles. I’m not going there. More disturbing is the fact that the entire enterprise is treated as a legitimate film, with artistic pretensions, as if it was on a par with everything else we all collectively agree is a film. Watching this movie feels like following Alice down the rabbit hole, with my profuse apologies to Lewis Carroll. 
 The Room is probably the most immediate trip you can take into somebody’s naked subconscious. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly rich mind you are visiting. If art is the sublimation of the subconscious (I am allowed to be pretentious; The Room demands it), this is exactly the opposite of art. It’s the sheer subconscious without aesthetic distance, irony, self-awareness, imagination, without the articulating power of creativity.
 Compare The Room to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which also takes place in San Francisco, also has a blond femme fatale and it is also about male sexual panic. An homage? Who knows. It doesn’t matter because you all know what Jung said about the collective unconscious. With Hitchcock, you see how an artist organizes his conscious and subconscious material to give back to us a collective dream (which is what movies are, after all); with Wiseau, you see the chaos of a mind in darkness which churns out an inarticulate, mediocre nightmare, which belongs solely to him. 
 For anybody attempting to learn how to write a screenplay or make a movie, The Room is the best example of everything that you cannot do. It is great learning material. Frankly, I’m seriously freaked by the liberties Wiseau has taken with my solid sense of reality. Watching him on a Q&A session on You Tube, I felt a scary pang. I don’t know if he’s for real. Perhaps he has created a character, like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton, or is a more primitive version of Sacha Baron Cohen. This is wishful thinking. Maybe Wiseau is like this, in which case I feel like I’ve lost some sort of innocence. I have crossed a threshold from which there is no turning back.

So what’s the endearing part? The dude made his movie. He wrote it, shot it, cast it, acted creepy in it and put it out there for all the world to see, never expecting that it would become a cult masterpiece of delusion (now he claims he was in on the joke). Be it far from me to applaud every moron’s misguided sense of artistic initiative; quite the contrary, “Don’t just do something, stand there” (Noel Coward) is one of my favorite mottoes. But for some unexplained reason one ends up admiring the benighted can-do spirit of this creep.


Originally published at grandenchiladafilmblog.blogspot.com on April 25, 2010.

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