By Ray Freedman
If you’ve never had spoons thrown into your lap in a movie theater, you haven’t gone to see “The Room.” This past weekend, Cinema 21 held sold-out screenings of the so-called “worst movie ever made” for three nights in a row, with the man behind the film in person.
“The Room” is a 2003 production written, directed by and starring, Tommy Wiseau. Its tells the tale of Johnny, a man who has it all. He has a good job, a dream girl and great friends. Little does he know, though, that Lisa (who he calls his “future wife”) is sleeping with his best friend, Mark.
“The Room” is bad. The acting does not make sense. The editing is out of rhythm and unnatural for the full running time. The writing finds ways to frustrate your logic. However, it is one of the rare bad films that is so incredibly watchable. Its flaws are committed with an authenticity that gives it a uniquely amusing flavor. It is hilarious but humbling to watch because of how serious it is intended to be.
Screenings of “The Room” have become monthly events at theaters across the globe. With the looming release of James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” — a film about the making of “The Room” — Wiseau’s film has never been more popular. Some movie-goers have attended these screenings for years, paying to see it over and over again. But it is not just the viewing of the movie that captivates people. It is the shared experience of interacting with the movie and participating in the rituals, such as the act of throwing spoons during the movie.
In the main set of “The Room” there is a table that inexplicably holds three framed pictures of spoons. At the screenings the audience comes equipped with packs of plastic spoons in their hand, ready to toss them in the air every time spoons appear on screen. Everyone yells “Spoons!” and throws their utensil to another place in the audience. On Nov. 24, I did not bring any spoons, but enough were thrown into my lap that I could participate.
The spoon-throwing is just an example of how Wiseau’s film has become a steadily growing cultural phenomenon over the past 15 years. Whenever a nonsensical establishing shot of San Francisco appears (there are many), the whole crowd says in unison, “Meanwhile, in San Francisco.” Whenever one of the egregiously long sex scenes runs for nearly five minutes, everyone claps along to the early 2000s softcore soundtrack. My favorite tradition occurs at a specific moment toward the ending of the film when Johnny says “hello” to somebody greeting him. Instead of looking at the other character, Wiseau looks at the bottom right corner of the screen. Audience members run in front of the right side of the screen and they all start waving and jumping, saying “hi!” back at Wiseau’s character before running back to their seats.
This physical response to Wiseau’s character is key to understanding the appeal and response to “The Room.” It is Tommy Wiseau. He made it with the dream of ‘making it, with unparalleled ambition, completely putting himself out there creatively and financially. He fully financed the film’s $6 million budget personally — how he did this has prompted many theories. Most assume he had a lucky source of personal wealth, some say he owned large amounts of property and some theories say he is an alien or part of the mob. All in all, though, Wiseau’s sincerity bleeds into the entirety of the movie. Wiseau poured everything into this film and that leaves audiences wanting to believe in it — wanting to run to the side of the screen and jump at him.
Wiseau is an enigmatic presence. He has an accent that is loose and difficult to place. His hair is long and greasy. He always wears black sunglasses that sit oddly on his face. On Nov. 24, he wore skinny jeans that sat below his waistline, held up by three belts. He seems simultaneously self-conscious yet grandiose.
When I walked into the theater, Wiseau was standing around, taking pictures with fans — greeting them by saying “step into my office.” You could only take a picture with him if you purchased Tommy Wiseau merchandise. He sells Tommy Wiseau underwear, T-shirts, beanies and autographed scripts of “The Room.” He has made himself into a brand.
Wiseau addressed the crowd in a Q&A session before the film. Entering to thundering applause, Wiseau answered questions ranging in subject matter from “how did you cast Lisa?” to “are you single?” One girl asked for a kiss, which was granted. Wiseau embraces all the varied approaches from fans. Some fans were patronizing and others were fascinated. Wiseau continuously fell back on phrases such as “Who cares?” and “Move on, next question” whenever he wanted to avoid something. When asked about his workout practices, he challenged a fan to do 20 push-ups with him. He was aloof but open.
Some people laugh at it because it’s a bad film, but this does not explain the pure joy that is felt in the audience. Most of us, it seems, are somehow laughing with the film. Perhaps this is due to how Wiseau has embraced his post-ironic following.
“You can laugh, you can cry, you can do whatever as long as you don’t hurt each other,” Wiseau has said.
The success of “The Room” is in its failure, and Wiseau chooses to stand before everyone in the tragic comedy that his story has become.
Toward the end of the Q&A, Wiseau called one fan up to the stage to repeat his question which echoes a line in “The Room”:
“If a lot of people love each other will the world be a better place?”
“Yes it will,” said Wiseau.