Sally Tomato’s Toy Room (2010) Film Review

Sally Tomato’s rock opera, Toy Room, arrived with a cover that boasted of four acts and ten accumulated laurels from the 2009 festival circuit. I pretty much always watch rock operas with hesitation, for their qualities are largely determined by the quality of their music. Toy Room was met with similar levels of hesitation.

The music of Toy Room is mostly competent, falling under all genres, from synthpop and alternative to hard rock and new age. There’s even an electronic track replete with Autotune! Not all of it is top-notch, but there are a couple songs that stand out; the rest are generic songwriting central, but they seem to fit pretty well with this film. Take that as you will.

What did seem like it took intensive time and energy was the editing. Toy Room was originally a stage-performed rock opera, the film swaps between scenes filmed from live performances to clips of weird karaoke-cheesy shots. The transition scenes are heavily edited, with fade-ins and montages galore. Whoever edited this film decided to pull out all the stops, and stylistically, it seem like every basic post-production trick was included… in an early ’90s sort of way.

Toy Room tells the story of a young lady who grows up lonely, finds refuge in her fantasy world, becomes involved in a shoddy marriage, and then finds freedom in rock concerts and coincidental self-enlightenment. Like the editing, the storyline goes all over the place and was certainly aiming kind of high when it was crafted. Nonetheless, some of the songs and lyrics are downright dumb; one childhood flashback recalling Sally’s purchase of a doll features a boring alternative rock song with horrendously mundane lyrics: “Don’t worry about the price/ Just pick one that’s nice.” And to describe the doll: “She has big eyes and a frozen tear/ There is no crying here.” Remedial English lyrics, galore.

It is the moments when the play/film/music turns slightly darker that the music is actually tolerable. That makes the accompanying visuals in those scenes also somewhat tolerable.

Musically, stylistically, and visually, this film is all over the place… and I have a hard time determining who on Earth the target market could possibly be. No matter, though. I can’t say I would really recommend this film to anybody, despite the hours and hours, I’m sure, that were put into it. To the filmmakers’ credit, though, everyone certainly went all out. Balls to the wall, if you will. I suppose if it were the actual performance and not a hodge-podge of a DVD, things would fare slightly better.

Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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