“I thought about a special place, a private place, a place where you can be safe. And it’s not a room, but it’s the room… The room is a place where you can go, you can have a good time, you have a bad time, and it’s a safe place.”
Director Tommy Wiseau on why he chose to title his film The Room
One day earlier this year, out of the blue, a friend of mine from L.A. sent me a copy of The Room with very explicit instructions: watch it without any research of any kind. I did. About half way through I realized I was in the midst of a true undiscovered treasure of cinema. And I needed to tell as many people about it as I could. For months thereafter, every time I got together with my various groups of friends, I would bring up The Room, attempting to convince everyone I knew that their lives were not complete until this film was a part of them.
Eventually, I got my wish. In fact, on several occasions over the course of 2008, I found myself sitting down with a Room newbie to yet another evening of Tommy Wiseau and his befuddling tale of morality, betrayal, and football. And so, despite the fact that 2008 was the year in which I viewed both Wild Strawberries and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the first time, 2008 will forever live in my memory as the year of The Room.
The story is that of Johnny, a rough-hewn brute of the Harvey Keitel mold, who spends his days working at a job that has something to do with computers. Or possibly banking. And at the end of every day, he heads home to make sweet, sweet love to his wife Lisa, who just happens to be in love with Johnny’s best friend Mark. Also in the mix is young Denny, a troubled kid who doesn't seem to have any friends or family of his own, and who Johnny has unofficially adopted. Aside from running around with drug dealers and telling Johnny he wants to kiss his wife, Denny’s okay. And we can't forget Lisa’s mom, who drops by on average once every twenty minutes, either to tell Lisa that she must marry Johnny regardless of how she feels about him or to complain about her cancer.
The majority of this action takes place in a small, brightly lit apartment, the living area of which is the room of the title. That this room bears witness to love on the rocks, secret affairs, birthday celebrations, sober dialogues on women, and pre-marital discord, shows us that it was Wiseau’s intention to use his titular room as a microcosm of the universe as he sees it. The scary thing is that the universe as he sees it consists of ideas gleaned from soft-core porn and daytime soaps. We have three, count 'em three, extensive scenes of remarkably awkward soft-core sex—replete with redubbed moaning and an infuriatingly memorable soundtrack, which eventually give way an inane love triangle of secret phone calls, accusations of abuse, smashed furniture, and fistfights.
If The Room consisted of nothing more than such uninspired narrative drivel, if it were nothing more than an idiotic soft-core soap opera set in a improperly lit apartment set, it would most likely have drifted into an oblivion of late-night Cinemax showings. But this film is not so easily pigeonholed. For The Room has a message. Yes, that message is overly simplistic and extraordinarily melodramatic, but it’s a message all the same. It’s best summed up with three simple words: “Everyone betray me.” Though it may read otherwise, this pathetic utterance by Johnny is not an order, but a lament, a cry of despair to the gods for surrounding him with such a callous and treacherous world. Betrayed by his fiancé and his best friend, disappointed in his young protégé Denny’s involvement in the dangerous world of drugs, double-crossed by his ungrateful employer, Johnny has come to realize that for him, The Room is not a place of solace, but a place of sorrow.
Of course, the film’s insipid storyline and unending bouts of hilarious overacting undercut any potential gravity in Johnny’s lamentable situation. One timeless moment occurs, not in The Room itself, but on the roof, after Johnny has been accused of hitting Lisa. Storming through the doorway, Johnny yells, “I did not hit her, I did not,” drawling the words in his bizarre eastern Europe/punch-drunk boxer inflection, and vigorously tossing aside a bottle of water. All of a sudden, he spots his friend Mark. “Oh, hi Mark,” he says cheerfully, all relationship troubles forgotten. (In fact, Johnny’s goofy “Oh, hi!” greeting is employed so often, it has become a standard greeting among my friends.1)
Still, to chide Tommy Wiseau for failing to craft a gripping drama is to presume, incorrectly, that the potential for such a film somehow existed without the bounds of this project. This is simply not the case. The Room is an amateurish production helmed by a man with a very immature understanding of film. That it makes any effort at all toward being greater than itself is admirable. That it fails is endearing. That it fails while including such inexplicable scenes as a group of men in tuxedos playing football is why everyone needs to watch this movie.
(Rumor has it that in L.A. the film has taken on a Rocky Horror-type cult status, with midnight screenings and a choreographed audience participation that includes throwing plastic spoons at the screen. I have not experienced such an event first hand so I can't confirm this for certain, but I sure hope it’s true.)
The Room has also opened our eyes to a previously unheard of cocktail, which we have dubbed “The Tommy Wiseau.” After a tough day a work, Johnny flops down on the couch and starts whining about how his company is playing him for a fool. Declaring that her man needs a drink, Lisa fills two glasses with three fingers of what appears to be whiskey, with no ice. To this she adds an equal portion of vodka and hands it to Johnny. He gulps it down like water, smiles peevishly, and declares that it tastes good. Intrigued, my friends and I have made the drink a staple at our parties (though most like to talk about it more than drink it).
Here’s the official recipe:
The Tommy Wiseau
Best served after working a long day for an employer that doesn't appreciate you. Especially tasty if you feel betrayed by the world.↩