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The Room (2003)

Did He Just Say "Tommy"?

Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is the most satisfying film I’ve seen in a long, long time. Not since The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man have I felt so full of love for movies that I felt like my head might literally explode.

For those of you not familiar with this cult gem, it's a low-budget drama about a guy named Johnny (Wisseau), whose fiancée, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), is cheating on him with his best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). It’s as simple as that, with absolutely no surprises, twists or revelations that couldn’t be found on Days of Our Lives. The mastery is in the execution.

The IMDB listing for this movie says that it’s a black comedy, and I’ve gotta call bullshit on that one. Such a label gives the movie far too much credit, and there’s no way to accept that all of the terrible acting, weird dialogue, atrocious camerawork, and mind-blowing music was intentional. For that to be the case, Tommy Wiseau would have to be an autistic auteur on the level of Francis Ford Coppola or Steven Spielberg. The movie magic here, I’m convinced, is a once-in-a-century perfect storm of awful that leaves good filmmaking in its hilarious wake.

It’s easy to see why The Room has become a midnight-movie sensation all across the country. It is jam-packed with instantly quotable lines (“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” Technically, this was ripped off from Rebel Without a Cause, but the delivery forever transfers ownership); its first two-thirds are nothing more than poorly shot soft-core porn (there’s a five-minute sex scene about every three minutes); the rooftop set is not only the weirdest use of green screen, it also hosts half the movie’s best, most riotous scenes. This was made for large, kitsch-craving audiences, and I can imagine people showing up dressed as their favorite characters, tossing footballs back and forth in the theatre (watch The Room and you’ll understand).

If you do plan to check out one of the film in a traveling show, I recommend renting (or better yet BUYING) the DVD and watching it first. Otherwise, you might miss Lisa’s awkward conversation with her mother about breast cancer; or the last-minute addition of a random character at the end, who acts as if he were in the rest of the story all along; or, best yet, Philip Haldeman’s final scene as Denny, the young boy who lives in Johnny and Lisa’s building: he calls out to Johnny and, I swear to God, calls him “Tommy”—twice. You may even miss Tommy's bizarre laugh, which would be a crime. I guarantee that if you aren’t familiar with the material beforehand, eighty percent of the best stuff will be lost in the howling laughter around you.

In the end, the question remains, is The Room a good movie? By most accounts, the answer is “no”. All of the elements that comprise a traditional drama are so mishandled that one could rightly call Tommy Wisseau an incompetent filmmaker. On the other hand, since the resulting movie is hilarious and has obviously struck a chord with fans of the absurd, credit must be given to Wisseau, even if only for accidentally birthing something that is bad in ways that the average audience member could never anticipate. On those terms, I would have to call The Room one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen.

Note: Tomorrow night, Chicago’s historic Music Box Theatre will be screening The Room at 8pm and 12:30am. Better yet, Tommy Wiseau will be in attendance! If I realize my dream of shaking the man’s hand and thanking him for changing my life, I’ll be sure to report back.

Additional Note: If you're still not convinced, take forty seconds to watch these two clips. You're welcome.

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