Originally from Michigan but educated in the south by the Savannah College of Art and Design, Jacob Ethington is a playwright and screenwriter who's always willing to relocate if necessary. Excerpts of his work are available to read on this site along with blog posts about media that he loves.

"The Room" (2003) Review

"The Room" (2003) Review

How do you separate The Room from its following?

I've seen The Room in theaters three times now, twice in Los Angeles, and once just recently in Royal Oak, Michigan, but it wasn't until the Royal Oak screening that I asked myself that question. It was a question I asked myself because I saw The Room for the first time with a group of friends in a dorm common area in Savannah, Georgia. We had an unofficial "B-movie club," where we watched some of the most infamous films of all time, from Miami Connection to Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2, and other films. Seeing The Room in that environment was key to the way I view the film, because we only knew it was bad. We didn't know that we were supposed to be throwing spoons, we didn't know that to yell "Focus!," and we didn't know to say "Meanwhile, back in San Francisco!" every time the film cut to a wide shot of San Francisco.

The Room was just another bad movie to watch on our personal lists, but it even managed to stand out to all of us. It's truly on another level of terrible filmmaking, the kind of movie that inspires insane superlatives and exclamations from reviewers. That's pretty remarkable when you think about the kind of films that earn the moniker of "so bad that they're good" or the truly terrible films like Andrew Jordan's Things from 1989 (incidentally, if you've ever seen Things and made it through the whole movie in a single sitting, you're a stronger man than I). The films that earn that reputation tend to be horror films, action films, sci-fi films, stuff like that. They're almost never an earnest attempt at creating a human drama.

And The Room is one of the worst attempts at an earnest human drama that has managed to pierce social consciousness, but its presence as a theater event has a caveat. I have the personal belief that if you have never seen The Room, do not watch it for the first time in a theater. Watch it with some friends and don't look up the traditions associated with it. Otherwise, watching it during a theater event for your first time will make the film impossible to follow, with everyone shouting jokes. Don't get me wrong, it's a blast to riff on the movie (especially with a lot of alcohol in your system), but you should have the displeasure of seeing the film for what it is, unfiltered by a raucous crowd.

With all of that in mind, I'm not going to write a review for The Room as a theater experience. I want to review The Room as a movie, divorced from the legendary stories of its production. Because I think it's worth talking about this movie in a way that goes beyond just being a drunken fun time at the movies.

Right off the bat, the film's biggest problem is its star, Tommy Wiseau as Johnny. Small clips on YouTube of this vaguely European man saying "Oh hi Mark" does not convey how truly terrible he is as an actor. He literally does not react like a human being to the point where if Rick Deckard from Blade Runner suddenly interrupted the movie to kill Johnny and announce that Johnny was a Replicant, it would be a more plausible explanation of his behavior than anything the film presents. Small interactions like buying a dozen red roses manage to come off as completely alien, even in the film's context.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's talk the story of The Room. It actually has a fairly straightforward plot on paper. Johnny has a fiancé named Lisa. Despite Johnny being a good man who provides for her, Lisa decides out of seemingly nowhere that she's sick of Johnny. She ends up seducing Johnny's best friend, Mark. As Lisa and Mark's affair goes on, tensions rise in Johnny's apartment until they boil over during his own birthday party with tragic consequences.

Now, I'm not trying to toot my own horn too much here, but I feel like I did a pretty decent job writing that synopsis. I even made it sound kind of exciting. The only exciting parts of the movie are what it completely botches, beyond Wiseau's central performance. The terrible green screen effects for the film's rooftop are immediately distracting, the fact that several lines have clearly been dubbed in during post-production are hilarious, and yes, there are several shots out of focus throughout the whole movie.

The film's other flaws miraculously manage to land at Tommy Wiseau's feet as well. He's not just the star of The Room, he's the producer, the writer, and the director too. You can literally blame almost every single one of the film's flaws on Wiseau at one point or another. Especially the part where the film has unmistakably misogynistic undertones.

This comes up every once and a while when people talk about The Room, but if we're really going to try and separate the film from its following, it's really worth taking the time to talk about that issue. I don't think there's literally a single positive female character depiction in the main cast with maybe the exception of a friend of Lisa's named Michelle that does seem concerned about Johnny. Otherwise, the women, namely Lisa and her mother Claudette, are scheming monsters. Lisa is truly an abominable character, bereft of any positive aspects once you get past the film's first overly long sex scene (there are a total of four overly long sex scenes by the film's conclusion).

It's why I think making fun of the movie is so vital. The character of Johnny is clearly meant to be a projection of what Wiseau thinks is a good man, and so it feels like civic duty to mock the movie at every turn. When the film tries to present him as a sexy man, it feels like a cry for help, a man attempting to validate his prowess. And it couldn't be a creepier and more awkward display if it tried.

Beyond that, the film also proceeds with no logic. Characters do not respond to information in a way that resembles human reaction. Mark constantly asks Lisa "what she's doing" when she's about to seduce him literally every time she seduces him. Again, it's just baffling. Characters will literally appear and disappear out of the narrative without warning or reason, the list goes on and on. And on top of everything else, it manages to feel endless when it's only 109 minutes long.

I'm not going to itemize every single one of the movie's problems or else I'd be here all day. But for fans of truly terrible films, The Room does live up to its reputation. I want to emphasize again that if you do decide to see it, see it at home with friends first, then go see it at a late night screening in a theater later on. You should absorb every awful frame with your own two eyes. It's good for you.

All that serious writing out of the way, what the hell is up with Danny? He's one of the creepiest characters in all of modern cinema. I've seen interviews with serial killers that creeped me out less than that guy.

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