Watching The Neighbors is an exercise in masochism. Poorly shot, shoddily edited, and equipped with the worst sound quality this side of a home movie, the whole thing is rank with the vibe of arrogant neglect. Tommy Wiseau knows that you loved The Room, his so-bad-it’s-good feature with Lifetime movie production values and roaringly bizarre filmmaking choices. He’s become a beloved midnight-movie staple, a carnival barker who plays up his “mysterious weirdo” persona for monetary gain and fan service. As a result, he seems to be counting on his many devotees to unquestioningly follow along on The Neighbors’ misguided experiment in low-budget entertainment. But whatever lightning in a bottle that birthed the man’s unprecedented success is long gone. The problem is less that the whole thing looks cheap and badly made, and more that Wiseau has stopped caring about quality control.
Say what you will about the content of The Room: One of the things that adds to the fun is just how lovingly it was filmed and assembled. Production-wise, it’s often indistinguishable from a late-night cable weepie, the result of Wiseau’s insistence on good equipment and a competent crew. The Neighbors (not to be confused with the defunct family sitcom of the same name) looks like it was filmed via the tender process of setting up a tripod and hiring a PA to point the camera in the direction of the loudest screaming. It’s a distinctly ugly look, like the B-roll from a 1970s sitcom. There’s no indication of affection for this project at any point, other than the vague impression that Wiseau is developing a penchant for low-grade mumblecore. The Neighbors is the kind of lazily assembled, slapdash project that broadcasts its tossed-off feel with brusque indifference.
The story revolves around a motley assemblage of characters all living in the same apartment complex, overseen by Charlie (Wiseau) and his assistant/lover Bebe (Gretel Roenfeldt), a woman cursed with the task of trying to make Wiseau come across as a charismatic lead. There’s Tim (Raul Phoenix), the young guy constantly playing basketball and goofing around with Charlie and Bebe. A busty sexpot named Philadelphia (Karly Kim) wears only pink bikinis, speaks in a valley girl sing-song, and is mostly surprising for not secretly being a Kroll Show character. She’s joined by a busty sexpot named Mariana, a busty sexpot named Lula, and a busty sexpot named Patricia, the last of whom distinguishes herself multiple times with the following declaration: “I like women.” (Diversity!) The Neighbors has some clumsy and likely unintentional racism, along with a weird strain of homophobia, mostly embodied by an older woman named Cici (Pamelia Bailey), who carries around a chicken and hollers obscenities at people, often for no discernible reason. The show is less a collection of characters than a parade of interchangeable weirdos, with no consistent personalities or reasons for interacting. It’s like watching the costumed money-grubbers on Hollywood Boulevard get into fights—it doesn’t really matter why they’re yelling, and you’d just as soon hurry past them so you can forget how awkward the whole situation is.
Storylines meant to evoke Melrose Place-style sudsers flit in and out of the narrative, and in and out of coherence. Sometimes Troy—a pot dealer, and also the character who screams the most, which is really saying something—and Cici are at each other’s throats, threatening to kill one another in their sleep. (Good joke?) Sometimes they smile and exchange pleasantries while she buys drugs from him and talks about her chicken. A closeted man with a pregnant wife periodically pops up, most notably in the first episode, when he’s discovered in bed with another man. (In case it wasn’t clear from the context of her swollen belly and their whole “being married” thing, she helpfully reminds him, “I am your wife. I am pregnant.”) The closest thing to a plot that actually proceeds with linear logic is the second-episode arrival of Princess Penelope, a member of the British royal family who for some reason is intent on signing a lease at this ramshackle complex. Everyone is very excited to meet her, at least until the next episode, when it seems familiarity has already bred contempt, with the princess reduced to just another apartment-dweller.
The Neighbors’ most impressive feat is that it actually gets lazier as it progresses. The first episode is a rapid progression through a series of unpleasant character exchanges—some barely lasting a minute before it’s on to the next variably recorded banter. By the fourth episode, there’s an endless scene of Lula, Troy, and Ricky Rick (Wiseau again, but with a blonde wig spilling over his face) sitting around drinking and smoking pot. Moments of utter silence tick by as the characters look at each other, giggle uncertainly, and offer up desultory comments to the ether. Troy says he wants to kill someone, then says it was a joke. Lula asks if they’re expecting someone, then shrugs. Was this improvised? It would at least explain the pointlessness.
That lack of care or passion characterizes the whole misbegotten mess. It’s less a first draft than it is a bunch of people set loose with the barest of character details and ordered to interact. (At one point, Bebe’s relative Susie explains to Troy that the two women actually aren’t sure how they’re related—they’re either siblings or cousins. “Well, you should figure that out,” Troy replies, presumably breaking character to address Wiseau directly.) Characters forget what they did or said mere minutes prior. After Troy demands, “Who is this?” to often-seen handyman Ed, Ed replies, “It’s Ed. You see me every day.”
Watching more than several minutes of The Neighbors for morbid curiosity’s sake is excruciating, but no one is going to watch this hoping for a quality show. They’re there to watch a train wreck—and make no mistake, this is a disaster of the highest order. But where The Room is a masterpiece of bad cinema, the rare case where the stars align and all the insane decisions somehow add up to something inexplicably entertaining, The Neighbors is just an unpleasant slog. It sucks. It’s the kind of sloppy mélange that some giddy fourth graders would make with a spare camcorder and an empty soundstage, of interest only to those who created it. The biggest disappointment isn’t that it’s so bad; it’s that Tommy Wiseau didn’t seem to care enough to try and make it better.
Developed by: Tommy Wiseau
Starring: Tommy Wiseau, Gretel Roenfeldt, Raul Phoenix, Karly Kim, Andrew Buckley
Now streaming on: Hulu
Format: Single-camera sitcom
Four episodes watched for review