Movies weren’t just entertainment for my family, but they were a form of cryptic communication that we used every day. When overdue bills flooded the mailbox, my mom would take a letter opener to them while dramatically quoting “Raising Arizona”: “You’ll be gettin’ a doctor bill in the mail in a few days. I recommend you pay it!” As my older brother rounded the corner and jumped out at me and my little sister, she’d scream, “You scared the cuss out of us!” – a go-to “Fantastic Mr. Fox” reference.
When being interrogated by our parents, asking “An African or European swallow?” in the midst of serious inquiries could always lighten the mood. At the end of any sentence, no matter what we might have been fighting about, we could tack on the classic “Rushmore” line, “And I’m in love with you,” and get a roar of laughter in reply.
I bought the white satin jacket from “Drive,” and my dad tattooed “There Will Be Blood” onto his foot, even though my mom hated tattoos. We wore “I am not Paul Avery” pins and sat down to watch Jack Burton wrestle with David Lo Pan in “Big Trouble Little China” once a month like clock work. Movies were a connective tissue that held our family together. They mended the most violent of fights and ended the longest of silences. Even when we broke apart, we still had those movies to remind us of how we were once whole.
One of the movies in our long, spiraling Rolodex of references was the 2003 intended romantic drama “The Room.” The first time I ever saw this movie was in my living room. Three miniature schnauzers, all named after movie characters, padded across the carpet, and my brother fiddled with a Nerf gun, pelting me with suction cup bullets. My parents were in a playful mood, working together to spoon ice cream into bowls for us, drenching the mounds in Magic Shell chocolate sauce as they giggled. When they took their places on the couch and turned on the television, we all were submerged in a world of failed drama but amazingly successful comedy.
We laughed harder than we laughed during Monty Python, “Burn After Reading” or any of our family’s classic comedy faves. We paused almost every scene to catch our breath, wheezing in unison as Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) stumbled through his lines with horrible timing and hilarious intonation.
Months after watching the movie, every time we entered a room, we would say, “Oh, hi Mark.” While petting the dogs one of us would say, “Hi, doggy,” and someone else would respond, “You’re my favorite customer.” “The Room” references were a language we all spoke fluently. We could slur lines at one another if we were ever at a loss for something funny to say. The quotes came with guaranteed smiles attached to them, even when smiles started running thin.
The day my dad texted me and my brother – “your mom and I are splitsville” – the family fortress we built from long nights watching “Poltergeist,” curled-up Christmas mornings watching “Star Wars,” ice cream-filled stomachs jiggling with laughter at “the Room” came splintering apart.
Suddenly, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa” wasn’t so funny. When I thought of “The Room,” I didn’t think of Johnny’s emotional diatribes and anguish-filled acting, but of the less-funny parts where his world was crumbling. And when lines from the movie were spurted from one of us in desperation, they were met with humphs of acknowledgment, not croons of laughter.
For a while, it went like that. In heats of anger, my dad would threaten to move to Japan. My mom cried in the driver’s seat of her Nissan Quest the night my dad introduced my little brother and sister to his new girlfriend. At my sister’s play, they sat next to each other exchanging stiff niceties. On Christmas, we managed to sit together for dinner. Together, my parents left behind our jacaranda tree-canopied home in California for separate, winter-cloaked houses in North Carolina. Relationships slowly pieced back together into fragile structures like the lamp in “A Christmas Story,” taped and uneven.
This Thanksgiving, I will sit at a long table with my little brother bouncing on my lap talking about “Legend of Zelda.” My little sister will be pulling slime out of her hair as my older brother drums on the table with his silverware. My dad and his girlfriend will sit on one side, calling each other “baby.” My mom will sit next to me, talking about “the blacksmith” from Tinder. The conversation may stall at points. But at any moment, someone can say a classic Johnny line, like, “Anyways, how’s your sex life?” and be met with smiles.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].