“The Room is the Citizen Kane of bad movies.” – Ross Morin, Entertainment Weekly
Nearly five years ago, we began The Citizen Kane of Awful, a series looking at the best worst films ever made. The title was a tribute to one description of The Room, a film we at first decided was too infamous to cover.
Now, with the release of The Disaster Artist this week, we can’t wait any longer. You probably know all there is to know about The Room already, and if you don’t, no explanation I can offer will help you.
“I no longer know where The Room ends and I begin.” – Brickyard Jimmy, IMDb
Spoiler: There is no plot.
At its core, The Room is the story of Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) and Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and how she cheats on him and breaks his heart. It’s trying to be an intense potboiler full of tempestuous feelings and conflicting loyalties. In reality it’s a dirge full of people changing their mind every 30 seconds then having terrible softcore sex.
The closest thing The Room actually resembles is an am-dram society recreating a distant childhood memory of Othello, fuelled by Kafka-esque dream logic.
A great man once said: “I know writers who use subtext and they’re all cowards”. Tommy Wiseau is no coward.
“Having seen this movie all the way through for the first time, I feel more spiritually drained and existentially depressed than I think was intended.” – laird, Letterboxd
You know Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who raped and then ate the mutilated bodies of his victims? I’m convinced Denny grows up to be that man.
Denny turns up unannounced at Johnny and Lisa’s house every five minutes, grinning like a Mousketeer and making leery advances to Lisa, which apparently is no big deal because he’s about twelve years old.
He pours cold water on one of their sex scenes by starting a pillow fight, because apparently he “just likes to watch you guys”.
None of the cast come across as real human beings, except for Denny. He comes across as the kind of man who would murder you in your sleep.
“listen i dont think there is a funnier, more satisfying sentence than a friend saying ‘ive never seen the room, what is it?’ and then hitting that play button with them” – Wes, Letterboxd
The rooftop in The Room is my happy place. When the world gets too tough or scary I let my mind wander to that San Francisco skyline, its corrugated iron stairwell, and – Oh hai Mark!
Maybe that’s what heaven looks like: an island with blue skies and San Francisco skyscrapers where somehow nothing and everything makes sense.
“My girlfriend is going to leave me if I don’t stop quoting it… So I’m going to turn to Reddit and save her the misery. Anything for my princeeess.” – FelMaloney, Reddit
There are many terrible things about The Room. The line readings are the worst. It’s unsurprising that an actor as poor as Wiseau couldn’t get decent performances out of his cast. What’s truly fascinating is how it seems like he never tried to.
Greek new wave director Yorgos Lanthimos cultivates a mannered and flat dialogue style that drains all the emotion from a scene. It deconstructs language and creates an unsettling uncanny mood that removes all artifice from human behaviour.
Tommy Wiseau does not.
He achieves some of the same effects – the lack of genuine emotion, the hilarious disconnect between words and meaning – but all by mistake, no matter what he may have claimed with the benefit of hindsight.
Take the worst line reading of the entire film from Lisa’s mum:
“I got the results of the test back! I definitely have breast cancer!”
This seismic revelation is delivered with all the levity of someone explaining their ASOS package has been delivered to the Royal Mail collection centre. It’s one of the funniest moments in 21st century film.
“In the same way that Steve Martin or Woody Allen movies became part of my vocabulary, that’s what happened with The Room.” – David Wain, Entertainment Weekly
The greatest scene ever committed to film. No further comment.
“I did not do it. It’s not true. It’s bullshit. I did not hit her. I did notttttttt. Oh hai Mark!” – Tommy Wiseau, The Room
Can you imagine a human being speaking like this? Without a significant brain injury?
It’s impossible to deny that these are all words, and they’re all written down in what is just about a grammatically correct order. But they exist in a vacuum, stripped of all context and normal cadence by one of the strangest actors ever to appear on screen.
Even after hours of studying Tommy Wiseau’s life and work, this clip is the closest you’ll ever get to understanding the man.
“It’s like your favourite nightmare. It’s horrible to watch the whole time.” – Robert Popper, The Guardian
As Lisa’s affair is revealed, Johnny launches into the least convincing tantrum imaginable. He knocks over lights, hurls drawers to the floor and rips down curtains, all with the rage of a neutered poodle.
It’s fascinating how Wiseau can care enough about filmmaking to fund this vanity project, pouring his heart and soul into it, yet emerge with something so devoid of sincere emotion.
“It’s as if a 10 year old David Lynch made a softcore porn for HBO.” – iNtuiTionTalk, Reddit
So many sex scenes. All shot in exactly the same way, in exactly the same bed, in exactly the same room. It’s painful enough watching Wiseau’s Iggy Pop-esque body writhing around with his poor fiancée Lisa. The ultimate insult is how every scene lasts for the full duration of the shitty noughties pop ballads that are used to score them.
“Lisa’s kind of like a femme fatale, but as conceived by someone who was dropped on his head as a child. Several times.” – Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
I just feel really sorry for Juliette Danielle. She has to endure five fully topless sex scenes with Wiseau, and her character is given the worst possible hand to play with.
Sure, she cheats on Johnny with Mark, but the morality of their affair is so twisted. She ends up getting blamed by both men, when she’s just as much to blame as Mark.
“He is on par with DeNiro in Raging Bull, Nicholson in Easy Rider, and Brando in Streetcar.” – ilovetommywiseau, IMDb
Every line of the film is directed towards telling everyone that Tomm- sorry, Johnny – is amazing. One early scene with Lisa’s mum is literally her telling her daughter how great Johnny is and how lucky she is to be with him.
He writes, he directs, he stars – he’s the worst actor in the world, he’s an accidental genius.
If this is an ambitious piece of performance art, then Wiseau deserves an Oscar, a Pulitzer and a Nobel Peace Prize.
But it’s not. Is it? It’s just shit.
Star Rating: 1/5
Kane Rating: 5/5
There’s a reason The Room was originally named the Citizen Kane of Awful. At first viewing you can only gape at the thing unfolding in front of you, which claims to be a film, but looks nothing like any you’ve ever seen.
Every viewing after that reveals endless depths of accidental hilarity. New cracks appear in what is already the flimsiest of plots, and the performances become flatter and more entertaining.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When it gives you a film as abysmal as The Room, the only thing you can do is laugh.