December 09, 2011

The Room and film clichés

I recently saw the film The Room (2003). This is a film that got brutally panned in reviews and I watched it fully expecting it would be terrible. Why subject myself to such a waste of time? Because it belongs in that rare category of films that are so bad that they are good. As one person said, The Room is the Citizen Kane of bad films, so awful that it has developed a cult following, with special midnight screenings for the faithful who anticipate every scene, throwing plastic spoons and footballs at appropriate moments, and yelling out key pieces of dialogue.

Most ordinary bad films are bad because they are the work of a group of people who could not quite get their act together, with the writers, actors, and director either not agreeing on the vision or with one or more key people putting in a subpar performance. The really great bad films are usually the result of a single person with a vision that is badly flawed, combined with ineptitude. In this case, that person is Tommy Wiseau who is the writer, director, producer, and star and who, as far anyone can tell about this person with a somewhat mysterious past, had never made a film before or even acted in one.

Film making involves a lot of conventions that we do not notice (if done well) but are essential in enabling the viewer to follow the film without being explicitly told what is going on. For example, a shot of a character gazing intently at something is usually followed by one that shows what he was looking at. If you are shown the exterior of a building followed by shot of a room, we are justified in assuming that the room is inside the building. And so on. Wiseau violates cinematic conventions at every turn. Characters appear that do not have any backstory and then disappear without explanation, plotlines are introduced and dropped, events are foreshadowed that don't materialize, scenes inside the small apartment are interspersed for no apparent reason by random scenic views of San Francisco (the Golden Gate bridge should receive credit simply for the amount of screen time it gets), the dialogue is painful, the acting is either wooden or overwrought, and there is lack of continuity in the storyline.

For example, we are told repeatedly that Wiseau and his fiancé are going to get married in a month. Then late in the film, Wiseau and three friends appear in tuxedos and Wiseau is profusely complimented on his appearance, suggesting that this is his wedding day. They then go into an alleyway and throw a football around (throwing a football around in confined spaces is a recurring theme) until one of them falls down. The film then continues with everyone in regular clothes and it turns out that the wedding is still a month away and no explanation is given for the mysterious tuxedo scene.

At the end, Wiseau gets really upset (ostensibly by his girl friend's betrayal but perhaps because he realizes his film is a disaster) and sets about systematically trashing his apartment. He sweeps everything off the mantelpiece, breaks glasses, throws things at the mirror, flings his TV through a window, overturns furniture, empties the contents of dresser drawers, etc. As I watched it, I realized that I have seen this film cliché many times and it made me wonder: Do people in real life do this? I am not talking about bad boy rock musicians or other celebrities who trash their hotel or dressing rooms under the influence of drugs or because that has become something they think is expected of them and gets them publicity. I am talking about people who trash the places where they actually live because they are angry or upset.

I know that I wouldn't because, at the very least, I would have to clean up the mess afterwards and go to all the trouble and expense of replacing the things I broke. It all seems so pointless. Is this kind of tantrum something that happens only in films? Do the readers of this blog personally know any ordinary person who has ever done something like that, or even just thrown a glass at someone or into the fireplace, another popular cliché?

So watching The Room at least prompted in me one serious question, so it was not a total waste of time.


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Once while at my university I had to go to the third floor to get some materials. I waited at the elevator and when the doors opened a young man who was bleeding from a small spot in the middle of his forehead walked out.

He past me, made a right, and left the library.

I assume he was scratching his forehead and opened up a partially healed wound or something. But the moment was kind of surreal.

Another time I was leaving a theater after a movie had let out at a multi-plex. Many people were heading through the exit and my friend suggested we hurry so we can have time for dinner. I responded to him, 'We have plenty of time.'

At that moment an elderly lady who was walking in front of us turned and looked me straight in the eyes and said, 'You have less time than you think.' And then she went on her way.

Life seems full of these odd moments if we take notice. Movies, in my opinion, seem not to take notice.

If the above two situations had happened in a movie people would be asking about the meaning and reviewers would have called them unresolved plots and undeveloped characters. When in truth, this is how life transpires.

In response to your question, I've seen a few people get totally upset and knock things off a table or a desk.

Posted by Henry on December 9, 2011 09:39 AM

At work there was a guy who would throw things sometimes. He knew he had this predilection, so he was very careful to prevent his emotions getting to that point. But a couple of times it boiled over. He was a strong guy to start with, but I couldn't believe the strength his rage gave him - he threw a 4' x 8' sheet of 3/4" plywood about 40'. Yikes!

Also, a friend of mine and his wife don't have a healthy relationship, I've heard him tell stories about the things his wife throws - her phone, kitchen bowls, books, even a lamp once. [between you and me and the internet he quite possibly deserved it]

Posted by Peter on December 9, 2011 10:38 AM

I must cop to the fact that I have broken two Playstation 2 controllers in my life. Some video games are really, REALLY hard.

Posted by Matthew on December 9, 2011 02:32 PM

Many years ago at a party, I watched the hostess carry all of her glassware into the bedroom to smash it against the wall, one glass at time, because she was angry at her cheating boyfriend. I remember wondering at the time if she had thought of the fact that she'd have to clean it up.

My husband and I rented The Room by accident about a year ago and were fascinated by how strangely awful it was and how strange Tommy Wiseau was. We even had fun researching Wiseau. He financed the movie by working as a leather importer (whatever that is). Believe it or not, he wrote a book and filmed a documentary about filmmaking! The movie was so awful it was entertaining. My husband and I just kept looking at each other incredulously, not believing what we were seeing. To this day we quote strange lines from the movie to each other. I believe it's at the Cedar-Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights once or twice a month at midnight.

Posted by Amy on December 9, 2011 03:05 PM

Considering that the character's next act is to off himself, perhaps knowing that he wouldn't have to deal with the consequences of wrecking his stuff, he did so to emulate his favorite film cliche and see how it felt.

Although considering that we're discussing The Room here, that may be too logical an explanation.

Posted by HRK on December 9, 2011 05:11 PM

Shalom Mano,

I once threw a metal mixing bowl hard enough to dent the bowl (I've kept it as a reminder). I also once saw a husband throw a glass ashtray at his wife hard enough to knock her out cold.

Anger is a powerful, short-circuiting emotion.



Posted by Jeff Hess on December 10, 2011 08:28 AM

I knew a guy who threw an ottoman at his wife and stuck a knife in their kitchen counter. I found out later that the wife threw all kinds of things at him too. He was an accountant, she was a teacher. I knew a guy who threw a wine glass on the floor because he was mad (at me). He was a dentist. I know a young man who destroys his belongings (laptops, tvs,a guitar...) when he is angry, but he does have mental problems. I knew a guy whose wife threw all his golf trophies, about 20, at him. He was a doctor, she was a nurse.

Posted by Mary Jo on December 10, 2011 08:29 PM