As long-time readers will likely be aware, I hold Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” nearer and dearer to my heart than most any purported cinematic masterpiece you might care to name. Godard, Cassavetes, Welles – none can hold a candle to Wiseau’s neo-auteurist visionary daring.
Jump cuts and improvisation don’t seem quite so formally incendiary next to establishing shots which establish nothing in particular and such scripted gems of incoherence as, “If you think I’m tired today, just wait ‘til you see me tomorrow!” And this is to say nothing of Wiseau’s gargantuan thespian prowess: his powerhouse rendition of candidate-for-sainthood Johnny (real stretch with the name) quite handily puts the likes of Brando and De Niro to shame.
Such is the sort of hyper-sarcastic rhetoric one might hear from proponents first (as yet only) directorial effort. Actually, you could very well say directorial-writerly-production-distribution effort; the phrase “epic vanity project” springs to mind. In the midst of previous ravings on the subject, I expressed a nigh-irrepressible desire to conduct a scholarly investigation of “The Room,” having known from first exposure that this was no mere “bad movie,” that this potpourri of glorious ineptitude and warped sensibilities represented something far more significant.
Lest you think I’m revisiting old topical stomping grounds on account of burned-out laziness (there’s that too, but it’s not the exclusive cause), I do have a fresh angle to offer – an opportunity to write a paper on “The Room” has at long last presented itself. This is big for me, everyone. It may well represent the culmination of my academic career: now that I’ve managed to wrap a legitimate scholarly argument around such a thoroughly ridiculous work, I honestly don’t know how to go on.
It wouldn’t do to delve too deeply into the contents of my findings, as I’m not yet finished and don’t want to end up plagiarizing myself. Anyway, I brought this up not to engage in intellectual strutting-around but to share certain peripheral discoveries of the research process. The notoriously oblivious Wiseau, it seems, has at last realized the quasi-religious mania of those devotees attending his screenings is not one of genuine adulation but grand-scale irony. Certainly there’s some real affection sprinkled in there, but it takes the form of fondness for the film’s nigh-unfathomably incompetent construction.
What’s most surprising is that Wiseau, far from reacting to his epiphany with righteous indignation, has displayed a marked willingness to embrace (and exploit) the uber-kitschy appeal of “The Room” as well as his endearingly off-kilter persona. Not only has he pushed the Wiseau brand via not one but two YouTube series (“Tommy Explains It All” and “Wi-Show”), but “The Room” is now a traveling stage-show. Clips of these performances show Wiseau with tongue planted firmly in cheek, clearly knowing what people want and happy to serve it up.
Though this shift in attitude takes care of some ethical red tape accompanying celebration of “The Room” (is it okay to let this seemingly well-meaning, good-natured guy believe he’s created a dramatic masterpiece for the sake of cheap laughs?), it also raises vexing questions regarding the state of our culture. The burgeoning appeal of “The Room” presents a compelling case study on ubiquitous ironization and its implications. That Wiseau has become both butt and perpetuator of a massive ironic joke only complicates matters further.
Once upon a time, after all, techniques of irony and satirical self-awareness constituted potent weapons against outmoded and/or oppressive cultural modes. Yet the establishment has a way of co-opting and neutralizing that which threatens to overthrow it, and so irreverence and self-reference are now so commonplace as to be thoroughly defused. Simultaneously, there’s no going back to traditional “sincerity” since we’re so thoroughly attuned to its contrivances.
This leaves prospective artists in a tricky position. We seem to collectively be stuck between a rock and a hard place. As one who aspires to be a writer in some capacity, the issue of where to go from here is an especially immediate one. I definitely do not profess to have any answers – indeed, I’ve engaged in myriad self-effacing antics over the course of my Equinox career alone. Still, our media-saturated moment renders this dilemma more urgent than ever, one which demands discussion if not resolution. I’ll leave the latter to someone more qualified – papers up the wazoo over here.
Justin Levesque can be contacted at