Heroes Don’t Die, They Just Sparkle in the Sky
By A. J. UrquidiDecember 5, 2023
BIG SHARK WITH TOMMY WISEAU IN PERSON, Landmark Westwood, Los Angeles, November 11, 2023.
Exactly 20 years since the premiere of writer-director Tommy Wiseau’s cine-magnum opus The Room, he has unleashed his sophomore work, Big Shark, undertaking a cross-country campaign of scattered in-person screenings, with more coming.
The Room has earned cult status with its barrage of San Francisco stock footage, disturbing sex scenes, and the most distinctively bland production design this side of Lifetime movies. Showings at the Landmark Westwood, featuring Wiseau autographing monogrammed boxer briefs and novelty desk lamps, attract the same die-hard kids each month, with the script memorized and a stash of plastic spoons to hurl screenward whenever inexplicable cutlery photos grace the frame. Its uncanny presentation of human behavior elevates Wiseau’s debut to a canonical example of Brechtian alienation—which means Big Shark has big, sharky shoes to fill.
At one of the first screenings for the new B-movie, immediately following a clockwork late-Saturday-night Room meet-and-greet, I found my seat among a sea of Neil “Breenius” shirts and shark hats.
In my viewing, Big Shark’s attempts to distinguish itself from its predecessor quickly became obvious. The forced melodrama surrounding The Room’s inhuman Bay Area residents has been replaced with theoretically frightening circumstances: a “35-feet-long” marine superpredator flooding the streets of New Orleans, chomping unsuspecting buskers, and retreating to the river while armed forces sit out the emergency because they’ll arrive too late anyway. What promises to be a heroic film about three firefighters/roommates strategizing to defeat the beast eventually reverts to Wiseauistic forced melodrama of inhuman Big Easy brothers-in-arms and their volatile girlfriends—grabbing afternoon drinks, chilling on the couch, discussing the shark’s measurements as if the audience hadn’t already witnessed that conversation 10 minutes earlier in a different location. The situation’s urgency often melts into the background while these watchable weirdos go about their daily lives, occasionally amused by CGI water phasing through their legs like ectoplasm.
Wiseau has dropped the pretense of playing Johnny, The Room’s iconically unclassifiable man-child; here he portrays Patrick, a desirable man-man cosplaying 2010s Wiseau, donning his creator’s recognizably eccentric outfits from screening appearances. Hoping to achieve the virality of 2003 hits like “Oh hi Mark,” Shark’s characters frequently throw new slogans at the wall, wading into ad nauseum repetition of “[X character] has a delusional mind,” “[X character] is occupying my brain,” and a musical tangent inviting viewer sing-alongs: “Cowboys don’t cry / Heroes don’t die / They just sparkle in the sky / So I won’t cry.” Wiseauverse newcomers Isaiah LeBorde and Ashton Leigh give everything as Patrick’s co-lead and girlfriend respectively, injecting authentic charisma to the tension of every scene’s Thanatos impulse to derail itself.
Which is to say, the movie is a bat-shit blast for anyone craving more defamiliarized “filmmaking” like Wiseau’s unhinged web sitcom The Neighbors (2014–15), the art-house dream logic of post-1990 David Lynch, or the narrative sideshow that is Neil Breen’s 2013 enigma Fateful Findings.
After each Room screening, Wiseau roams the theater rows, confrontationally fielding inquiries from superfans; Shark’s debriefing displayed similar maestro posturing and answers hilariously displaced from the questions posed. Wiseau emphasized his “realism” by depicting alcohol’s prevalence in New Orleans and quizzed the audience on which director previously made a movie about a shark that easily could be bested by Big Shark based on size alone (spoiler: it was Spielberg). Besides contending with the threat of alligators, Wiseau disclosed that he had to learn to scuba dive for underwater investigation scenes where Patrick and bestie constantly fail to notice the monster passing behind them.
I asked why Patrick’s girlfriend uncharacteristically freaked out and threw his clothes from the balcony while upbraiding him; Wiseau’s winking explanation led to audience grimaces as he connected her behavior to her “culture,” which he kept secret (but was inferable from her Italianate surname). He laughed along with his idolizers, absorbing the uncomfortable love that sustains him from one career phase to the next.
Speaking of which, Wiseau revealed that he’s developing another film, a sci-fi exploration of the claim that we only use 80 percent of our brains (citation needed). If that sounds familiar, it’s because understanding Derrida’s concept of différance is a prerequisite to comprehending Wiseau’s art, as much as watching Jaws or ’80s telenovelas; only by deconstructing the tropes that power his films can you finally see what makes his influences equally strange.
Photo by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.
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