Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Fascinating and Baffling World of Tommy Wiseau

I'm not normally a huge fan of "so-bad-it's-good" movies, but when I saw the Nostalgia Critic's review of The Room and heard him recommend checking it out, I was inspired, and learning more about the strange cult following it had made me determined to see it. I have only had the honor of seeing the film in its entirety once, although I have frequently watched specific moments on their own. It is definitely something peculiar that has to be seen to be believed.

The basic plot (if you can call it that) of The Room is fairly straight forward. The intention appears to be that it is a story about a well-meaning fellow named Johnny (played by producer, executive producer, screenwriter, and director Tommy Wiseau) who has a good life and plans to marry his "future wife" Lisa. Unfortunately, Lisa has second thoughts about the wedding, and ends up having an affair with Johnny's best friend Mark, ultimately turning everyone against Johnny.

Of course, the reason this movie is so fascinating likely has to do with the ever-mysterious star: Tommy Wiseau. Many people have suggested crazy explanations for where he came from, but nobody can seem to agree on the precise origins of his accent. Co-star Greg Sestero recently published a book called The Disaster Artist (which may even get made into a movie in the near future) in which he provides plenty of bizarre anecdotes about the making of The Room. I personally have only read a small excerpt, though admittedly a bizarre anecdote nonetheless (the short version is Tommy showed up ridiculously late on the first day of shooting), which is hardly surprising given how he sees the world in his film.

It'd be an understatement to say the acting is really bad, especially on the part of Wiseau. The dialogue is also very bizarre and has plenty of often-quoted lines ("I feel like I'm sitting on an atomic bomb waiting for it to go off!"), and many a fan has imitated Tommy's bizarre tendency to greet everyone with "Oh hi". He also certainly doesn't seem to understand how the world works, with strange moments like throwing a water bottle on the ground in a fit of anger (while sounding more or less like he usually does and ending a rant with "Oh hi Mark"). Oh, and you are chicken reader, chicken: CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP CHEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPP!

That's not even getting into the bizarre behaviour of his characters. We get some really odd moments, like Denny's weird obsession with Lisa. There are heavy implications he has a crush on her and he casually enjoys watching her and Johnny have sex. That said, Johnny's treatment of Denny can be a bit weird at times, like going upstairs to have sex within minutes of him showing up at his house. There's also the supporting characters of Johnny's friends Mike and Michelle, whose first scene involves breaking into Johnny's house to have sex on his couch. Later on, Mike spends a few minutes recounting a "tragedy" that happened in this scene lasting a few seconds. Mark has a tendency to fall for Lisa's not-so-subtle advances, and I could probably go on listing weird things the characters do.

Most of the guys in the film have a favorite hobby of standing a few feet away from each other and tossing a football back and forth. It's insane how many scenes there are where Johnny tosses the football around with at least one other guy, and let's not forget the infamous scene where they spontaneously decide to play football while trying on tuxedos. I swear, this is real. One moment, they're trying on tuxedos then suddenly Denny suggests they go play football, and everyone (except Peter) just goes along with it.

Of course, from a narrative standpoint, The Room is also interesting just in how it does pretty much everything you could possibly do wrong when making a movie. The pacing goes all over the place, with quite a few scenes that don't seem to go anywhere (the "tuxedo football" scene for instance"). Scenes can range from being overly melodramatic to extremely rushed (as in the infamous flower shop sequence).

Also infamous are the numerous sub-plots that have a tendency to be introduced straight out of nowhere, last a single scene, and then never come up again afterwards. One of the best examples would be the scene where Lisa's mother delivers the line "I got the results of the test back, I definitely have breast cancer", to which Lisa acts surprisingly casual and continues to complain about her disliking of Johnny. This never comes up again in the movie.

I got the results of the test back, this scene has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

Also equally infamous would be the scene with Chris R. the drug dealer. It starts with Denny playing basketball on the roof Johnny's apartment for some reason, when Chris R. suddenly walks in. As we see later on, Chris R. broke in while at least four people were inside and made his way to the roof to confront Denny about money he's owed. Chris R. quickly proceeds to pull out a gun and start shouting at Denny (very subtle and definitely a way to avoid drawing unwanted attention) but he is easily overpowered by Johnny and Mark (who then take him to the police and return to the roof in a matter of seconds). Meanwhile Lisa tries to ask Denny what's going on and the most he says is that he bought some drugs off Chris R. so that he could get "some money to pay off some stuff". Once again, this scene has no build-up, comes straight out of nowhere, and the only purpose it might be meant to serve is justifying Johnny's possession of a gun in a later scene (though they don't bother to explain how Johnny came into possession of Chris R.'s the actual gun when it could have been used as evidence for convicting a drug dealer).

Then of course we get into the technical stuff. In particular the editing can be pretty weird, with scenes constantly cutting to extreme long shots of San Francisco, and one instance where a scene is actually interrupted by a random panoramic shot of San Francisco. Another behind the scenes story goes that Tommy actually purchased his cameras, rather than simply renting them, and he always had both running simultaneously so that he could compare the shots.

The Room is a very interesting experience to see. It can be a good lesson in how not to make a movie, but is also fascinating in the mystery of just what went through Tommy Wiseau's head. What led him to make the choices he did? The mystery of Tommy Wiseau deepens as we attempt to penetrate his warped mind and find fewer answers than we can to the origins of his accent.

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