Living in LA, you were bound to see this movie poster everywhere:
It frightened me, intrigued me. I had no clue what this was for; was this a horror film that took place in a room? The poster gave no hint — but it was clear the character pictured was an escaped mental patient. And this poster followed you everywhere, waiting for a street light to change on Highland, glancing out the car window on La Brea, in your dreams at night…
Fast forward many years. I started reading about all my favorite comedians being obsessed with this film called The Room. I was a bit slow on the uptake but finally realized they meant that movie with the escaped mental patient. If Paul Rudd and David Cross were fans, then this was a movie I needed to see.
But, still, never really made a move to take care of that. My brothers watched it on youtube, and I saw a few scenes here and there. After just one scene I realized what The Room was, a modern day Rocky Horror with great illusions of grandeur. How wonderful.
To ease you in, here is what is arguably the movie’s most famous scene:
It wasn’t till New Years this past year that I finally fulfilled my mission (thank you Apple TV and youtube!) Oh what a glorious glorious movie. It plumbed the depths of human experience and showcased one man’s utter and complete lack of talent, but simultaneously, shone a spotlight on his utter and complete self-delusion. I could come with up a list of adjectives and flowery descriptives, but none of them would scratch the surface of this monumental piece of cinema.
Thing is, seeing it at home is one thing. Seeing it at one of the midnight shows would be something else. The local indie theater, the Coolidge Corner Theater (if you’re in Boston and you aren’t coming here on a regular basis, shame on you), runs a monthly midnight showing of The Room. I tried many times to get my act together and go, but it was at midnight and I work for a living.
It wasn’t until I heard that the director/producer/writer/star of the film, Mr. Tommy Wiseau himself was going to be making an appearance at April’s showing, that I committed to one of these midnight shows. Wiseau is notoriously odd. No one knows where he’s really from, how old he really is, how he had $6 million to make the movie. He has a thick accent, perhaps Eastern European. He wants to desperately to be seen as an all-American guy, but after all these years has still not mastered the American idioms that betray him the moment he opens his mouth. All this I knew before last night, but experiencing him and his life’s work in a theater packed with other devoted fans, was something else entirely.
I dragged along a friend who had not yet seen the movie. I told him not to. To be honest, I was afraid that he would back out if he saw just how amazingly bad The Room really was. Luckily, I had no reason to fear.
The movie itself is held together by a plot that is to be very loosely described as a plot, interspersed with tracking shots from stock footage of San Francisco. I don’t know who Wiseau paid for this stock footage, but it wasn’t enough. Never have I been so sure that the movie I was watching took place in the city the by bay. Wiseau is Johnny, by all accounts the world’s greatest man. He pays for the college education of a local mentally handicapped young man, fully supports his girlfriend/”future wife” buying her a car, a giant engagement ring and possibly a house – he is a goddamned saint. But his future wife Lisa isn’t happy. None of this is enough for her, she’s bored and wants more excitement. And Johnny never gets his big promotion. Her response to these feelings is to sleep with Johnny’s best friend, Mark. And then it all comes to a head.
That’s the plot, basically. Oh, there’s a scene with a drug dealer named “Chris R.” Can’t forget about that nugget. This movie exists to show how wonderful Johnny/Tommy is and what an utter bitch Lisa/all women are. There’s a great deal of psychology at play. The problem is, not only is all just terrible, but nothing makes sense. Nothing connects. Characters show up and leave without motivation. There are sex scenes that are so awkward and long, that so lovingly film Wiseau’s oddly muscled naked body and buttocks, that you want to wash your eyes out with lye after seeing them. People “play” football constantly, though “play” here means tossing it around in a circle for a few minutes, sometimes while wearing tuxedos. People have conversations that start and stop and only repeat what they’d just said in the previous scene.
The movie is a mess. But as I said a glorious one.
When word got out that Wiseau was going to be at this month’s midnight screenings, they sold out so quickly, second shows had to be added. That excitement was there as we stood in line. There were guys in suits who brought a football, so everyone played in line, reenacting one of the many football tossing scenes.
We traded stories of past viewings – one guy in line had seen the movie 23 times. Women showed up wearing their version of the movie’s infamous red dress. And people brought spoons. So so many spoons. Why spoons, you might ask? Decorating a side table in Johnny’s apartment is an arty photograph of a spoon. That’s all. And that’s all it took for these spoons to become like the rice thrown during the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
As with all the best moments waiting in line, an instant camaraderie developed. Everyone chatted with everyone else. Those in costume or wearing The Room-themed t-shirts were the rockstars. Until Wiseau showed up. Wearing sunglasses, a teal shirt, a black vest, black pants, and four belts, Wiseau was a star. He was greeted by shouts and applause and basked in the love. I still don’t know how much of that applause was honest and how much was mocking, but either way, he loved it.
Once we were seated, Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero (Mark) were brought out. Everyone got to their feet, clapping and shouting “Tommy! Tommy! Tommy!” There was a very short Q&A – Wiseau was asked mostly stupid questions and mostly refused to answer them. He then brought up anyone in costume for … Ok, so I’m still not sure why they were on stage. Wiseau had OTHER audience members come on stage and made Greg Sestero, who looked more embarrassed with every passing second, throw a water bottle to them. If anyone caught it 25 times in a row, they would win “maybe a t-shirt.” No one made it past 6 tosses. Sestero was made to testify that Wiseau had caught the water bottle 21 times. Sestero confirmed Wiseau’s claim ,”I’m sorry to say that we’ve played this game before” to which Wiseau shouted “Why are you sorry?” Clearly Wiseau’s lack of awareness was both on and off-screen.
After a baffling game of toss the water the bottle, the movie started. People shouted out lines, yelled out comments to what was happening on the screen. It was loud and raucous and fabulous. There were so many little audience comments that just made the movie sing, “cancer nose”, “because you’re a woman”, “but you just got there” and many other things not fit for polite company – and yes, I know that unless you’ve seen the film, none of this will make much sense. Hell, even seeing the film might not shed much light. What mattered was that newbie and grizzled fan alike were rejoicing in the movie’s strangeness.
When it ended, the floor littered was with plastic spoons, we were tired and hoarse and totally satisfied. It was everything I’d hoped for, and more.
If you have seen The Room, I would recommend listening to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer. They parse the film, shaking out hidden meanings, accounting for its flaws, and gain insights from visiting guest, Greg Sestero.
If you have yet to see The Room, lucky for you the entire thing is on youtube. This is the link for the unrated version, the one with the long, drawn-out sex scenes. But if you aren’t about to invest in an hour and a half…here is the original trailer and best-of Johnny quotes to whet your appetite.
Needless to say, I’ll be back at the midnight screening next month. This time, armed with spoons…