“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Even up to its last weekend, the Egyptian Theatre used to fill near to capacity for its Midnite Movies. Shortly before the Egyptian closed, the Harvard Exit Theatre (managed by the same company, Landmark Cinemas) began its own late-night lineup known as Cine Insomnia. Among cult favorites like “Donnie Darko” and “Lost Highway,” Cine Insomnia feeds the midnight crowd’s hunger for deliciously bad movies fit for unintentionally hilarious call-outs and prop gags. On Saturday, Sept. 28, the Harvard Exit is hosting Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” to the delight of the ever-growing in-group that loves this legendary stinker to death.
“The Room” is… difficult to explain, but I’ll give it a shot. It’s essentially “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the Internet age. It escaped the seemingly inevitable fate of a forgotten bomb by appealing to a small but devoted audience who saw something special in its wall-to-wall ineptitude. Whereas “RHPS” became a ritual for self-described freaks and deviants (then later high school theater kids), “The Room” is the absolute peak of ironic enjoyment. Everything about the movie is bad, such that the whole experience feels like an elaborate slice of Dadaist genius.
But that’s what makes it so alluring. “The Room” was, for even the most intrepid pop culture journalists, a genuine effort. The man behind it, Tommy Wiseau, has been beyond cagey about its production for over a decade since its very limited release in California. If the guy and his labor of love are a joke, then Wiseau is the most dedicated comedic artist since Andy Kaufman.
“The Room” runs 99 minutes but it feels like it takes a week to reach the closing credits. The film is a mess of slow-moving and often nonsensical conversations revolving around the suspiciously empty lives of a handful of people in San Francisco. Wiseau (who also wrote, directed, edited and produced the movie) stars as Johnny, a banker who constantly dotes on his fiancé, Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Johnny is blithely, tragically unaware of Lisa’s affair with his best friend, Mark, leading to conflict only in the final minutes of the film. There are also a number of subplots that go entirely unresolved, including Lisa’s mother’s recent breast cancer diagnosis and the drug problems of a boy of indeterminate age and mental condition named Denny who may or may not live with Johnny.
Given a subtle writer, a cast of gifted actors and talented director, the basic premise of “The Room” could have played out as a fascinating character study. The film we have, though, is a bizarre mix of painful amateurism, soft-core pornography and a downright autistic lack of understanding of human behavior. This alone isn’t enough to make “The Room” an addictive midnight movie classic, but there are some inexplicable twists both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
On the most fundamental (and some would say childish) level, Wiseau himself is a big part of the appeal. He has a funny, untraceable accent supposedly cultivated by a childhood of traveling between the United States and Europe. The from-nowhere accent sounds, if anything, vaguely Belgian, in the same way imitation vegan meat tastes vaguely like chicken. Wiseau’s hard face and occasionally lazy eye make for a uniquely off-putting presence in the lead role, but, remarkably, the flatness of his delivery doesn’t bring down the movie because the rest of his actors are no better. Hell, Greg Sestero, the man who plays Mark, started out as a production assistant and only stepped into the role after Wiseau fired the original actor.
Details like Sestero ending up playing Mark elevate “The Room” from mere fiasco to quasi-mythic disaster. Stories of behind-the-camera insanity abound through interviews, tell-all books and rumors. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Wiseau admitted to only ever doing four takes of a majority of the film’s scenes, calling it “the one to four method,” as if that was a tried and true directorial technique and not the very definition of a bad, unfounded idea.
Nobody has ever been able to unearth the origin of the film’s supposed $6 million budget and Wiseau refuses to elaborate on that matter. The mysterious insanity of “The Room” keeps interest in the movie simmering, which is why a crowd will line up out the door to see this poorly shot, horribly acted, abysmally written wreck this month at the Harvard Exit and at theaters around the world.
For independent filmmakers (of which there are a growing many in Seattle), “The Room” should serve as nothing but encouragement. Tommy Wiseau, a guy from nowhere with no apparent influences or even knowledge of film, got his hands on millions, hired two (two!) production crews, filmed, marketed and distributed “The Room.” Literally everything about the movie could be so, so much better than it is. No matter how low the budget, how inexperienced the actors, or how small the crew, any aspiring filmmaker could do better than “The Room” and still benefit from word-of-mouth like Wiseau did. For those who have never experienced this one-of-a-kind barn fire of a film, it’s worth every minute and penny to see it on Sept. 28 at the Harvard Exit.