The End of the Rainbow, Starring...



For their third date, Derek took Mena to a very bad movie. Tommy Wiseau's infamous opus,  The Room,  was playing at the art theater downtown. Derek had seen it a dozen times before, but only at home. Mena had only heard about it.
And they had a blast. People came dressed as the characters, tossed footballs around, threw plastic spoons at the screen, and shouted along with every "Oh hi," right on cue.  
Derek and Mena were still laughing on their way out.
"You were right, that was so awful," Mena said. "It made  Pumaman  look like genius.  Please tell me guys don't spend all their time in tuxedos throwing footballs."
"I always preferred board games, myself." Derek put his arm around her shoulder. "But yeah, it's like Wiseau's trying so hard to make a good movie that it goes bad, but then it gets so bad it's fun. You know he's said it's supposed to be like Tennessee Williams?"
"No way. You've got to be kidding me. I've done Tennessee Williams, and that was no Tennessee Williams."
"Really? When was that?"
"Back in college, Glass Menagerie."
They opened the door into the dark, misty night. "You mentioned acting before," Derek said. "Did you like it?" The closest he'd come to acting was in skits he'd shot with his friends in high school.
"It was all right, but I haven't tried it since then. I've just been focusing on photography since I moved. On the other hand, lately I've been thinking... They're auditioning for Streetcar Named Desire over at the theater center."
"Sounds like a good idea."
"I don't know if I'm that good. It's been a long time."
"As long as you're better than Tommy Wiseau." Derek unlocked his car.  
Mena said nothing as they dipped inside.
Derek started the engine. It roared like a chainsaw, but it was good enough for his salary.
When they pulled out of the parking space, Mena said, "You know, he reminded me of somebody."
"Tommy Wiseau did?" Derek waited for some people to walk by.
"Yeah. Actually, I shouldn't bring it up. It's an old boyfriend."
"Oh."
"Forget about it—I had a great time. It was just like those Rocky Horror shows I went to back in California."
"You know, they're showing that next week."
"I saw the poster. Derek, we should go! I've still got my old Magenta costume. We can dress up and everything."
"Let's do it," Derek said. "Though I'm not sure how I feel about going out in my underwear."
"You can borrow some of mine."
Derek blushed. This was almost going too fast for him. Almost.
He continued to muse about The Room on the way back to Mena's apartment.
"It's just remarkable, you know?" Derek said. "You have to wonder what the hell was going through his mind when he made it. Every shot took a deliberate decision, and every single one was wrong."
"I can believe it," Mena said. "I knew a few film majors back in school. So full of themselves! You could tell them everything they did wrong, and they'd just say, 'Quit trying to stifle my artistic freedom.'"
Derek could picture them, noses pointed at the ceiling. "What was their stuff like?"
"Well, one of them..." She groaned and rubbed the bridge of her nose, as if preparing to unclog a toilet. "His name was Danny. Thought he was the next Scorcese, or Tarantino, or something. He made this big crime drama he thought he was going to take to Cannes, or Sundance. But he had no idea how to frame a shot, or build a story, or deal with actors. He'd give these stupid lines and throw a fit when we ad-libbed something better. He couldn't even decide if it a comedy or not."
"Sounds pretty bad." Derek thought of what Harrison Ford once told George Lucas: George, you can write this shit, but you can't make us say it.
He asked, "Were you involved?"
She froze. "With him or the movie?"
"Um." Derek wasn't sure, so he gave the honest answer. "Both, I guess."
She twisted her hair around. "Okay. Yeah. Danny's the boyfriend I was talking about."
Derek wasn't sure whether to keep asking. He was blowing it, he could tell. But he had to know. "So what did you do?"  
Mena's arms were crossed, and her eyes seemed to watch the unpleasant baggage roll up. Derek knew he should have shut up.
She sighed. "I was in it."
***
FADE IN
INT. Head-on shot of Garth Preconn, who walks out of his apartment with massive determination. He is a street-smart badass with a heart of gold, ready to take on the world. His mom yells from inside.
MOM
(offscreen)
Garth, remember to buy me some
foot cream while you're out!
Close up of Garth as he looks over his shoulder, giving the camera a good look at his chiseled face and determined stare. It's a determination from years of living on the street, where life is hard, so hard you need a chainsaw to cut through it.
GARTH
Okay, Ma.
Wide shot. He walks to the elevator at the end of the hall. His determined stare is not hindered by his duties. He farts, really loud, like he's laying waste to the world behind him. He waves his hand in front of his nose.
GARTH
Damn pancakes.
The elevator door opens up and he walks in there. In there with him is Betany, a smoking hot babe he's had eyes on for a while. Close up to Garth, then Betany, who smiles, then Garth, who longs to tell her how he really feels. Then back to the medium shot of both of them.
GARTH
Hey, what's up, girl? You know, I've
had my eye on you for a while.
BETANY
I'll bet that's not the
only thing you want on you.
They make out. They get out of the elevator together and go outside. Betany points up.
BETANY
Look, a rainbow.
There's a rainbow.
GARTH
You know how they say a
leprechaun keeps his gold
at the end of a rainbow?
BETANY
Of course, I've heard the legends.
GARTH
Just you wait, baby. I'm
gonna get to the end
of the rainbow, and grab
that gold.
BETANY
Wow, really?
GARTH
Naw, bitch. I'm just using a metaphor. You'll see. I'm gonna make us rich.
***
Derek gripped the steering wheel, and stared straight ahead. He kept his eyes on the road, away from Mena. "You were in it, huh?"
"It was a small part," Mena said. "Danny offered me the main love interest, but I didn't want to do any nude scenes."
"But you were in it."
"It's not important. My scene didn't even affect the plot—not that anything did."
Derek nearly laughed. He thought better of it. "How bad was it?"
"Bad. Very bad. Room bad. MST bad. I'm just glad we never released it. You can't even find it on YouTube."
"You're kidding. What's it called?"
"The End of the Rainbow. Remember, it's a crime movie."
A huge laugh jumped out. "'End of the--' No way. That is not real. I have to see that."
"Good luck. You're not going to find it anywhere."
"You sure? There's gotta be a copy somewhere."
She said nothing. Now Derek knew he'd screwed up. "That's okay," he said. "If you don't want me to see it, I don't have to. Lord knows I wouldn't want anybody to see the embarrassing stuff I did in college."
Mena turned and looked out the window. "Don't worry about it."
They arrived at Mena's apartment. When they got to the door, Mena told Derek to wait outside, and darted in. In a few minutes, she came back out and handed him a DVD in an envelope. "Here it is. The End of the Rainbow. Tell me what you think." Her head stayed turned to the side.
The label was a plain-white envelope sticker with the title scrawled in Sharpie. "What if I like it?"
"That's a big if." She sighed, and thought a moment. "Just be honest, okay?"
"Okay," Derek said. "I had a good time."
"Me too," Mena said.
Derek went home, and went to bed.
First thing in the morning, he put on the movie.
It made The Room look competent. At least that let you see the characters. The lighting in this movie left everybody in silhouette. Every frame was a jumbled, off-balance mess, as if it were shot in a cramped bar with a bad cell phone. Derek didn't rule out that possibility. The most intense scenes came off as goofy; the goofiest ones were just moronic.
It starred writer, director, and producer, Danny Ellis, as the hero, Garth Preconn. He was a tough and intense gangster who pouted like a rejected Twilight vampire and recited all his lines in a dry monotone. Derek decided Garth must have been a Vulcan.
The story, if you could call it that, was Garth's epic rise and fall. He starts out in a dull apartment with a cranky mother, gets into drug dealing, makes thousands of dollars, blows it on more drugs, and finally dies in a police shootout. No conflict or tension; it just happened, as if on autopilot. Garth does things until the cops show up. Shots are fired. The end.
The random, misplaced fart jokes did not help.
There was an awful lot of nudity, as well. Derek kept count of how many female characters went topless, slept with Garth, or made out with him. There were thirteen, in total.
Then there was Mena.
***
EXT. Derek arrives at the Pussy Whip, the most popular club on the West End.
INT. Derek walks in, and there are some smoking hot babes dancing and jiggling their titties and everybody's having a good time. Garth is holding a duffel bag full of coke. A stripper greets him and leads him to the dressing room, where four more strippers are waiting. All of them are topless except for Dena. They're doing their hair or something. They stop whatever they're doing and go up to him perkily.
DENA
Hey, you got the stuff?
GARTH
Right here, babe.
Garth lays the bag on the table and opens it and pulls out a smaller bag of coke. The bitches are all over him and stuff, but he holds them back.
GARTH
Easy, ladies. One at a time.
He hands the first bag to Dena.
GARTH
Here you go, girl.
DENA
Thanks, Garth. You're so
hot when you bring me my blow.
He passes a bag to each stripper. Dena lines her stuff up and snorts it.
DENA
Wooooooooooooooo!
She goes up to Garth and starts tongue kissing him and licking his face. The other strippers join in. It's totally hot. He totally does all of them. Yeah.
***
Well, at least she got out of it without getting naked. But that was her, playing the stripper Dena. How humiliating. Now Derek could see what made her so ashamed. Or made her break up with Danny. Or move out of California.
He thought, oddly enough, of Ed Wood, the Tim Burton movie. Ed, played by Johnny Depp, shows his girlfriend Dolores, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, his script for Glen or Glenda. The film is basically Ed's confession to the world—and her—that he cross-dresses. Their relationship only crumbles from there.
This movie wasn't quite on the same level as Glen or Glenda, but he could imagine Mena dreading the same outcome. Not only was her part degrading, but she said her lines like a kid reading Shakespeare aloud in class. The only actor worse was the lead. And Derek laughed. The movie was hilarious, and he felt terrible for it. Here was a girl he truly liked, and he was laughing at her.
But he thought about it over lunch, and wondered, why let him see it at all? Why put him—or herself—through this? If she was so worried, did that mean she thought this was going somewhere? That this might work out?
He called her. "I watched it."
Silence, for a moment. "What'd you think?" Mena said.
"Pretty god-awful."
"Told you so. How was I?"
"Well..."
"You can say it."
"I..."
"Tell you what, you want to get coffee later? I'll pay. Will that make up for your suffering?"
"Sure." He definitely wanted to see her. "Five o'clock?"
"Sounds good."
They said goodbye, and Derek hung up with so much more to talk about. He stored it up and charged it while going through his day, visiting his dad, buying some screws and nails, and going to the library for their internet. Just as Mena said, he couldn't find anything on The End of the Rainbow. The closest he pulled up on YouTube were either "double rainbow" parodies, Lucky Charms commercials, or Sesame Street songs.
He drove up to Mena's apartment at ten till five, and knocked on her door holding the DVD. When she answered, he handed it to her. They stared at each other, each waiting for the other to speak first.
"Well, come in," Mena said.
Derek went in.
Her apartment was cramped, but she kept it pretty neat. A worn-looking laptop sat on the desk, and a small HDTV hung on the wall next to it. Black and white photos surrounded the TV. Trees, parks, desert roads, LAN parties, beaches. Derek had seen some of it before, and he found it hauntingly beautiful. Hiring her as cinematographer would have improved End of the Rainbow  a great deal.
"Okay," Mena said, still holding the DVD. "What'd you think?"
"Honestly?" Derek said. "I had a good time watching it. It was one of the best bad movies I've ever seen."
"And what about me?" Mena said. "You can say it. I sucked."
"Well... yeah. You weren't very good. But I don't know if anybody could save that material. Just look what George Lucas did with Natalie Portman. I refuse to believe that's how you did in Glass Menagerie."
She stared at him. "Wow. Thank you."
"You should audition. I'd love to see you in a real part."
"Thanks. I actually gave them a call earlier." She set the disc on the table. "So where does this leave us?"
"Actually..." Derek scratched the back of the neck. "This is a longshot, but I'd kind of like to watch it with you. We can riff it together."
"Riff it? Like, make fun of it?"
"It's just a suggestion. Honestly, it's kinda cool that I'm going out with someone from a bad movie."
Mena chuckled, and brushed her hair aside. "You sure about that? You might not live through my performance next time."
Derek shrugged. "If you're embarrassed, we can skip it. Not like it affected the plot, right?"
"Not like anything did."
Derek laughed, and then Mena laughed, and pondered over the TV. Then she opened up the DVD player. "Want anything to drink?"
***
INT. Garth's hideout. Garth's hiding away from the cops. He's got stubble and some Jack Daniel's and some last few ounces of drugs. He's almost lost everything. He's drunk. Piss drunk. I mean, really drunk. Totally hammered. Someone knocks at the door.
GARTH
What?
Betany comes in.
BETANY
It's time, Garth.
GARTH
For what?
BETANY
I think you know.
GARTH
Maybe I don't.
BETANY
And I think you do, Garth.
The cops are on the way.
GARTH
Wha? Shit, girl, I'm glad
you told me.
BETANY
No, you see, I'm the one
who told them. I told
them everything.
GARTH
You did what?
BETANY
I squealed. I tattled.
I played canary. I gave 'em
the whole story. They're gonna
put you away, away for a
long time.
GARTH
How could you do this?
BETANY
You played me. You cheated
on me, made out with all
those chicks, left me high
and dry. You remember what
you promised, don't you?
GARTH
Refresh my memory.
BETANY
The end of the rainbow. I'm
still looking, Garth. Where is it?
GARTH
You want the end of the
rainbow? Here it is, skank!
He gets up and shoots her five, maybe six times. She staggers back and slides down the wall. There's another knock at the door.
POLICE
(
Offscreen)
It's the police. We're here
to arrest you for the drugs.
GARTH
You'll never take me alive, coppers.
POLICE
Don't resist arrest, Garth.
GARTH
You want me, come and get me.
POLICE
All right, you asked for
it. This is the end of the
rainbow, and I'm your pot of gold.
GARTH
Show me what you got!
He pulls out his gun as the door opens. Fade to black as we hear gunshots in the background.
POLICE
(still offscreen)
We told you not to resist,
Garth. Now you're dead.
Credits roll, and the audience pauses to take in how awesome that was. Right?
FADE OUT
***
Derek and Mena never went out for coffee. By the time either one remembered the original plan, they were halfway through the movie, so they ordered pizza instead.
And they riffed up a storm. They even watched Mina's scene, and Mena herself was the first to crack jokes at it. When the movie was over, Mena exhaled slowly. "How long have I been holding that back?"
"You needed it," Derek said. They tapped their beers in a toast. Mena chugged the rest of her can and crushed it in her fist.
"I did need that." She pulled her hair aside. "Know why I really broke up with Danny? Turned out he was sleeping with Betany."
"What a shock."
"Yeah. And a few months later, she found out he was sleeping with someone else behind her back."
"He triple-timed you."
"That he did. Last I heard he was working tech support for some video game company. That's a much better use of his talents, don't you think?"
"Oh, definitely," Derek said. "I mean, that was—it was like he tried to remake Scarface based only on what Iknow about Scarface. And I haven't even seen Scarface. Can you believe that last scene? What'd he use for blood, house paint? And the dialogue! What was he—"
Mena kissed him. "I had a great time, Derek."
"Me too, Mena."
They left the TV on, but that was the last they said of The End of the Rainbow  for the rest of the night.


Originally published in Drinkers for Writers, 2012.
Also available on the Kindle Store here or as an EPUB here.

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I almost wonder if this even needs an introduction.  It wears its influences on its sleeve.  The entire story is my love letter to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and bad movies in general.  I got the idea when I ran across Emma Donoghue's Room at a bookstore, and thought of Tommy Wiseau's The Room.

For the record, I have yet to read Donoghue's Room.  I have, however, read Greg Sestero's The Disaster Artist, which is an entertaining memoir about his experience starring in Wiseau's The Room.  I wish I could say I drew on it for this story, but this was locked in long before Sestero's book came out.  It doesn't look like I was too far off the mark, though.  Pun not intended.

Amazingly, in the original draft, it was just the story of Derek and Mena, with only quick references to the movie itself.  It was my then-extant writing group that encouraged me to write out scenes from the movie itself.  The screenplay segments you see in this story are almost exactly what I originally wrote, with only minor changes for clarity.  I'm honestly a little too proud of how awful they are.

Speaking of that writing group, in 2012 we put together a zine collecting stories and poetry from our members.  My contribution (other than editing) was this very story.  You can still read that version here.  This version on this page, however, is a more up-to-date edit.  I'd strongly prefer that you read this one.

Making the screenplay segments look decent in an ebook was a nightmare.