Flip flop: Tommy Wiseau’s The Room

The Room arguably qualifies as one of the worst films ever made, but I’m not sorry I saw it. I’m only sorry I witnessed its shlocky attempt at eroticism on DVD instead of with a group, like at the Plaza Theatre’s upcoming screening Tues., Feb. 17, at 9:30 p.m. Barely noticed upon its original release in 2003, The Room has inspired a fanatical cult following that includes Hollywood cool kids such as Paul Rudd and David Cross. The Room invites joyous ridicule at midnight screenings like The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a new generation.

Most cult films involve loopy subject matter, such as Rocky Horror’s alien transvestite musical or Plan 9 From Outer Space’s extraterrestrial grave robbers. The Room’s plot proves utterly mundane as it follows a San Francisco love triangle between a theoretically lovable banker named Johnny (auteur Tommy Wiseau), his bored, gold-digging fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero).

The Room’s fascination comes in large part from Wiseau’s bizarre screen presence. Overly pumped up, dressed in black, and with long black tresses framing his half-closed eyes, Wiseau looks like the kind of mob henchman Jean-Claude Van Damme would kick in the face in the first reel. His slurry European accent and challenges with emotional intonation make simple statements sound otherworldly. His would-be anguished exclamation “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” has become the film’s de facto catchphrase. (Fittingly, Wiseau will appear on an upcoming episode of Adult Swim’s surreal “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”)

The Room sets a sleazy tone early on with Skinemax-level sex scenes and overwrought R&B songs. At first, you watch it with the weary contempt you hold for any bad movie. Then you realize that The Room’s unprecedented ineptitude puts it on its own plane of awfulness. Your memory chews on lines such as “As far as I’m concerned, you can drop off the Earth. That’s a promise!” The cast delivers lines so awkwardly, they’re like hostages forced to make a film with guns pointed at them off-camera. The Room’s cult seizes on the film’s inexplicable details as opportunities for interaction. Some throw plastic spoons at the big screen when they see the framed photo of a spoon on an end table.

Given the transparent lack of talent or aptitude behind The Room, the fact of its completion and release seems almost miraculous, like a blind man solving a Rubik’s Cube. (OK, maybe a blind man solving one row or one side of a Rubik’s Cube.) Wiseau hasn’t fled from The Room’s notoriety, but rather, has embraced it. He claims that the film was meant to be a “black comedy” and that some of its technical faults were intentional, such as out-of-focus scenes and Ed Wood-level green screen effects meant to show the San Francisco skyline. If that’s true, and The Room is really an elaborate hoax, Tommy Wiseau may be one of the greatest and subtlest filmmakers in history, rather than the opposite.