First Impressions Review: 'The Room' (2003)
Ah, yes, The Room. One of the most popular candidates for the 'Worst Movie Ever' title. At the same time, it's also one of the most popular candidates for the 'So Bad It's Good' title. The front of the DVD cover states, "Experience this quirky new black comedy, it's a riot!", but it just comes off as a desperate attempt to save face.
This is a movie I'd been meaning to get to for quite a while. I've seen random clips on YouTube, and I've heard a lot about it in general. But never before had I actually watched the whole thing from beginning to end. Until now, that is. It's always something I felt I needed to see for myself. And I'm happy I did.
When The Disaster Artist came out, I wanted to watch The Room first, then go see The Disaster Artist while it was still in theatres, and then do first impressions reviews of both that film and this one. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to it before The Disaster Artist left theatres, but that's still another film I'd like to cover. But for now, let's take a look at the unique specimen known as The Room.
Inside the Mind of a Genius
This is just such a bizarre movie. I've never seen anything quite like it.
It actually starts off on a pretty good note. For the first couple minutes, we get some lovely music alongside nice, atmospheric shots of the city. And then it all goes downhill from there...
The weirdness begins when we're introduced to Johnny, our protagonist. From the very moment he appears, there's something incredibly off about him. The idea for his opening scene seems normal enough. We have a kind-hearted man coming home to greet his fiancée, Lisa, and gifting her with a pretty red dress. What makes it so weird is the acting. Johnny has such strange mannerisms. I'm not even going to try and describe it. It's one of those things you have to see for yourself. Heck, even his laugh is weird.
The movie doesn't get any less bizarre from there. A college-aged kid named Denny comes over. He's clearly on amiable terms with Johnny and Lisa. Within a minute of Denny arriving, however, Johnny and Lisa decide to go upstairs to "take a nap."
But then Denny decides to follow them. As Johnny and Lisa are working up to sex by getting into a random pillow fight on the bed, Denny joins them. And then we get this gem:
Johnny: "Denny, do you have something else to do?"
Denny: "I just like to watch you guys."
Lisa: "Ohh, Denny, Denny, Denny boy." (reaches over and strokes his hair)
I love how Denny pretty much tells them straight up that he likes to watch them have sex, and neither Johnny nor Lisa appear remotely bothered by this.
Afterwards, Denny finally takes the hint and leaves. Then we get a sex scene between Johnny and Lisa which is more cringe-worthy than it is sensual. Following that, we get our first major plot complication when Lisa's mother, Claudette, comes over. She and Lisa have a mother/daughter heart-to-heart, where Lisa admits that she doesn't love Johnny any more. The only explanation Lisa offers her mother is that she finds Johnny boring.
But after Claudette leaves, Lisa calls Mark, Johnny's best friend, and invites him over. We then discover that Lisa is in love with Mark instead of Johnny, and that she and Mark are having an affair behind Johnny's back. And that's pretty much the basic gist of the story right there. See, in itself this is not a bad plot. Clichéd, maybe, but still kind of interesting. But that's the thing with this movie. It has so many ideas that sound fine on paper, but were simply badly-executed. Of course, it also has other ideas that are just straight-up bad, but I can at least see what the movie was trying to accomplish.
One of the biggest problems is the characterization. Johnny is too over-the-top nice and Lisa is too over-the-top mean. The movie is trying too hard to have a clear-cut hero and a clear-cut villain in a story that isn't designed for it. I get that Lisa is meant to be a sociopath, but still, her portrayal lacks subtlety and depth.
Johnny, meanwhile, is supposed to be seen as this compassionate, lovable, amazing person whom everyone (except Lisa) adores, which the film reminds us of over and over again. But even there, his saint-like status as the ideal boyfriend misses the mark, as he just comes off too creepy and weird for this portrayal to be effective. He also does things that go against his otherwise kind demeanour, such as laughing at a story of a woman getting beat up, or eavesdropping on Lisa and Claudette, and recording Lisa’s phone conversations without her knowing (even if she was cheating on him).
Along the way, we meet a colourful assortment of other characters too. None of them are as distinctly 'good' or 'evil' as Johnny and Lisa respectively. The issue is more that their subplots don't really go anywhere. One positive thing I can say, though, is that the characters are all very memorable. Probably not for the right reasons, but everyone stands out somehow. Each character has his or her own quirks. Most of the fun in watching the film comes from seeing what weird and nonsensical things they'll do or say next.
So Lisa invites Mark over, and we get another cringe-worthy sex scene. You can tell that these characters aren't very bright. What compels Lisa and Mark to make out in Johnny's apartment? Aren't they afraid he'll come home and catch them? Couldn't they go "take a nap" at Mark's house instead? This relationship won't go horribly wrong at all...
On that note, why do Lisa and Mark have sex on the spiral staircase, of all places? Each to their own, I guess, but that seems like an incredibly awkward and uncomfortable place to do it. The stairs aren't even carpeted.
Anyway, Lisa's affair with Mark, and everything else of importance, is all pretty much established by the 17-minute mark. From this point on, there's very little in the way of plot advancement until near the end of the movie. Just bizarre bits of fluff along the way. Thankfully, the fluff itself is a lot of fun.
After Mark leaves, Johnny comes home with another gift for Lisa, this time flowers. We are then treated to yet another cringe-worthy sex scene, again between Johnny and Lisa. Then Johnny leaves, and Claudette comes over. Claudette and Lisa have another mother/daughter heart-to-heart, and Lisa complains about Johnny again. That's the other thing you start to notice about this movie. It's repetitive. Even the city landscape shots – one of the film's only good aspects – become overused towards the end. The main orchestrated theme, as nice as it is, also repeats itself several times.
I could go on and on describing all the silliness, but I don't want to give too much away for those who haven't seen it. Plus, if I tried to describe the whole thing, I might never finish this review.
Now that I've finally seen The Room in full, I can say with certainty that, yeah, this is a pretty bad movie. I have to agree with the consensus on this one. I'm a pretty forgiving movie-goer for the most part, but there's some things you just can't defend. Especially because, beneath all the mess, I can actually see the potential for a decent movie. Maybe even a good one. If only the acting had been better, and if the screenplay had been given some much-needed surgery, it probably could've been salvageable. But, then, it probably wouldn't have been half as memorable as it is, and almost certainly not the cult classic it is today.
That said, is it one of the worst movies of all time? I'm inclined to say, no, it isn't. Why is that? Because it's just so darned entertaining. I've seen movies or read books that fell apart because the material wasn't interesting enough. The Room, thankfully, is not a boring movie. It's pretty cringe-worthy in places, but never boring. Despite all the repetition and meandering, every scene manages to have at least one oddity in it that makes for a fascinating watch. It's a train wreck of a film, but it's a beautiful train wreck.
I actually recommend it, even if you're not normally a fan of so-bad-it's-good movies. There's just something mesmerising about it.
Have you seen The Room? If so, let me know below. I'd love to read your thoughts.
(Update: I have a more in-depth look at the film here.)
© 2018 Ian Rideout