By Clarisse Tenreiro
Anthology films have always been appealing to my need of narrative variety. The concept of offering the viewer a combination of short stories that, within their differences, see themselves connected through a common theme or premise is without a doubt an exciting prospect. Additionally, when directed by various individuals, it gives the opportunity to bring to life the working together of different talents into one coherent whole, allowing the beauty of filmmaking to take its collaborative nature one step further. After hearing that Quentin Tarantino, whose movies I am profoundly fond of, had been part of this project, I put on hold whatever movie was, at the time, next on my list and pressed play on the 1995 anthology comedy Four Rooms (1995). However, while it surely entertained me for a while, the entirety of it was disappointing and left me wondering how such a great concept took a turn for the worst.
Four Rooms (1995) is set on New Year’s Eve at a fancy hotel in Los Angeles and follows the chaotic and eccentric encounters of the hotel’s bellboy Ted (played by Tim Roth) with a variety of the establishment’s guests. The narrative divides itself into four stories, each belonging to a different hotel room Ted is summoned to. The first is written and directed by Allison Anders, the second by Alexandre Rockwell, which is then followed by Robert Rodriguez’s story, only to have it end with Quentin Tarantino’s grand finale. The movie’s opening credits are unquestionably on point: with an animated cartoon version of Tim Roth’s character, it imitates the style of The Pink Panther title sequence and transitions the viewer into the comedic absurdity that will follow. Unfortunately, what follows does not live up to the expectations one has gathered so far, especially because of its rough start with the first chapter titled “The Missing Ingredient”.
This first story, directed by Anders, leads the bellboy to the Honeymoon Suite, where a group of witches have gathered with the purpose of resuscitating their goddess Diana, through a magical potion they must prepare. While they’ve all brought their respective ingredient, one of them has failed to retrieve her part: semen. In consequence, Ted becomes entangled in this ritual and is seduced by the witch before moving forth to the next bizarre event of, what is to become, a terrible night. This chapter, which features a latex-dressed Madonna as one of the guests, can be entertaining to a certain point. However, it mostly feels empty and pointless, lacking any kind of story development, not to mention the load of ridicule and over-the-top that’s put on the characters, weakly portrayed by their respective actresses.
It seems that the common saying “leave the best for last” has been applied on this movie’s order of events, as the chapter that follows does not surpass the previous in any way. Rockwell’s sequence brings the main character Ted to an even stranger event, within the walls of room 404. Here, he finds himself trapped in the mids of a deviant hostage game between a maniac man and his wife from which he manages to escape, after long minutes of nonsense. While it’s strange in a way that leaves one not knowing what to do with it, it also gives no opportunity for a laugh.
On the other hand, Rodriguez’s segment “The Misbehavers” is well-done as it brings back the humour and entertainment that Tim Roth’s character needs to succeed. With the evident presence of the director’s signature style, this story invites the viewer and Ted into the room of a married couple (brilliantly played by Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) and their young daughter and son. Before heading to a New Year’s party, the husband pays Ted to babysit the children, which he struggles to do once the misbehaving begins. In the mids of a crazy chaos that leaves the room an unimaginable mess, one can truly enjoy this smart and imaginative story that dances at the right tempo and gives slapstick a wink.
Finally, it’s Tarantino’s turn to shine in the last chapter titled “The Man from Hollywood”. In it, Ted goes up to the penthouse of the hotel and meets a movie star, played by Quentin Tarantino himself, and his drunk friends, from which we can find the wife from the second chapter and two other men, Norman, played by Paul Calderón, and Leo, played by Bruce Willis. Within some classic tarantinoesque dialogue, there is a challenge in which Ted is brought into : Norman must succeed at lighting a Zippo lighter ten times in a row or else his pinky finger is chopped off. While Tarantino’s touch is brilliantly poured all over this episode, his landmark speeches that wander off to other topics while remaining captivating throughout do not quite succeed in this hotel room as they fantastically do in his other works. The conversations seem to linger at times, taking too long to reach the action of the episode. Nevertheless, the ending (which will remain unrevealed on this page) works perfectly for the closing of Ted’s endless crazy New Year’s eve.
All in all, Four Rooms (1995) does not fully reach what it’s set out to be. While half of it makes it worth a watch, the other half makes its whole a disappointing result. In essence, it is a funny comedy with a creative idea and structure. Roth’s performance, quirky and whimsical, is entertaining to observe, as his every move and expression is so exaggerated it becomes a coherent and well-elaborated character, who actually entails some sort of development unlike most of the other characters and plot points. The simple yet smart plot-line of a bellboy going through a series of unusual events throughout the space of an evening and the setting of four hotel rooms is clever and intriguing. However, the lack of connection between the four stories takes away the opportunity for a more impactful ending and a richer overall story, leaving it a little dry and perhaps in need of a potential fresher remake. At least the diversity was there. Every one of the four stories that creates the film Four Rooms has its own style and personality, and they surely set each other apart with very different results. Now it’s up to each one of you to decide whether this is worth the try or not.
Clarisse is a Portuguese and German film enthusiast currently living in the Netherlands.
Fascinated by the art of cinema from an early age on, she undertook Filmmaking Studies
in Amsterdam in order to experience how the magic of the moving picture comes about in
practice. Having worked on several minor projects such as music videos, short films and
impression videos, she has also written for The Cinemaholic and undertaken a research
on auteur cinema for her Bachelor Thesis, where her interest in film criticism and history
was put to work. Psychological thrillers and biographical dramas are among her favourite
genres of the big screen.