THE ROOM

20 YEARS ON, HOW DOES EVERYONE KNOW ABOUT THE ROOM?

RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW
By Jess Fenton
23rd June 2023

For years, my partner and I have lived near a cinema that boasts monthly screenings of 'The Room'. In 2011 when I was studying film, classmates and teachers would talk about 'The Room' occasionally but from their stories I thought it was a joke, a prank, a satire... a YouTube short at best. Never in a million years did I think that such a film would make it to the big screen. I can admit now that I was young(er) and naïve and I had no idea what was to come.

Tales of a single room, actors changing mid-film, the worst performances ever committed to celluloid and the most gratuitous and uncomfortable sex scenes the cinematic world (sorry Willem Dafoe) - they were no exaggeration. We finally decided to succumb to the barrage of advertising, the rumours and the curiosity of what actually constitutes the "Citizen Kane of bad movies" from Tommy Wiseau and head to one of these notorious monthly screenings. We were handed a piece of paper that listed cues for interactions and a fist full of plastic spoons - apparently there were framed photos of spoons all over the apartment - and a collection of phrases to yell out at choice moments. From the first frame it was nonstop chaos. The sold-out audience was too loud to hear most of the dialogue, it was also 9pm on a Saturday at a licensed cinema. The writing was on the wall. I still shudder at the memories and cannot believe I was stupid enough to go. It was cinematic peer pressure. Who are you if you haven't seen 'The Room'? We made it maybe an hour and 20 minutes (of the 99-minute run time) before the screaming, the constant spray of saliva to the backs of our necks from the drunken assholes behind us screeching "Because you're a woman!" and an assortment of other misogynist language, no doubt a combination of inebriation and a misguided attempt to impress their dates, got old. And yes, those fucking spoons. We'd already witnessed others being absolutely pelted as they left to go to the bathroom, get another drink or simply leave. We stayed about 20 minutes longer than we should have, working up the courage and a plan to protect ourselves from the onslaught of spoons, Maltesers and water bottles. We made our move. The mob's anger and douchbaggery rained down upon us. Once safely outside, the spoons and popcorn shaken off our person and on the street we waited for the ringing in our ears to subside before the inevitable debrief started as we walked home, me a little quicker, desperate for a shower, for so many reasons.

'THE ROOM' TRAILER

Obviously, I hated the film. No doubt due to the conditions in which I saw it and not for the film itself. I love a glaring piece of crap as much as the next person. "Hate watching" is what my partner and I call it. Sadly, some films are beyond reproach, so bad you can't even enjoy hating them, they're simply awful. But 'The Room' wasn't that. Yes it was bad, deafeningly so, however my curiosity was piqued. Despite all its faults, why was it so beloved? Not long after our viewing experience the cinema announced that the screenings were so popular that they were now moving them from their 164-capacity screen to the 700-capacity screen. They were also limiting alcohol purchases. While it was too little too late for us, perhaps there was some hope for those that followed but, my god, think of the spoons!

Plagued with relentless curiosity I soon discovered that there was a book made about how such a film comes to be. But this book is no 'In Cold Blood' - it was written by none other than "Oh Hi Mark" himself, Greg Sestero. A first-hand account of the bizarre chaos that is 'The Room'!? *add to cart* *proceed to checkout* *purchase immediately!* Long story short, 'The Disaster Artist' (published in 2013) is brilliant. I still have questions about how a man with the demeanour and secrecy of a friendly Ted Kaczynski manages to wrangle and inspire an entire film crew and cast with the megalomania and incompetence of Elon Musk. Perhaps not even the greatest profilers in the world can solve that one.

The timing of my newfound obsession was fortuitous. A quick Google search led me to a page announcing the production of 'The Disaster Artist'. A fully-fledged Hollywood production led by James Franco serving as director and playing Tommy Wiseau, with his brother Dave Franco by his side as Greg. The two Francos are clearly related, but that casting trepidation was quickly quashed when a recreation of the infamous 'The Room' poster was released featuring James in all his prosthetics and wigged glory in an uncanny likeness to Wiseau.

Despite all its faults, why was it so beloved?

On the 18th of November 2017, Greg Sestero was welcomed with open arms to my local cinema (yes, that one) for signings, photos and to introduce the premiere of 'The Disaster Artist'. I and fellow SWITCH. contributor Jake were there. We got our books signed, posed for our photos and later that night, we were there, eager little beavers to see how it all went down, Hollywood style. With s sprinkling of magic artistry here and there, I wasn't the biggest fan of how sympathetic they made Wiseau's character (only hindsight and the #MeToo movement crystallised that ironic directorial choice). All in all it was clichéd - the book was better. But nonetheless, there now exists two pieces of cinema and a best-selling book dedicated to the workings of a madman. And what's more, Wiseau has five directing credits to his name (four post 'The Room') and Tommy and Greg reunited for 'Best F(r)iends: Volume 1' (2017) and Best F(r)iends: Volume 2' (2018), written by Sestero, making less than $500,000 at the Box Office; audiences can be so fickle.

So here's where we find ourselves: by today's standards, Wiseau's on-set behaviour would have gotten him cancelled. James Franco made a film about him and his onset behaviour did get him cancelled - for different reasons of course and on different projects, but the fact remains. 'The Room' has no conceivable merit. The screenplay is... there are no words. The acting, an abomination and production value non-existent. We condemn films today for a lot less. A lot less - the ending sucks. Miscasting. Bad VFX. Even poor marketing and advertising. So how does 'The Room' survive? How did it manage to reach so far? It played in one cinema, in one city, 20 years ago and yet we're talking about it today. 'The Room' does not exist on any streaming platforms and Blockbuster Video is dead. How? How? I found out about this movie while sitting in a film school classroom. It doesn't make any sense! Is the movie and Tommy Wiseau the joke, or are they in on it? Are there more to come? Is there an appetite for this kind of film, or was it truly a lightning-in-bottle scenario? Is it now bigger than itself? Is it no longer about enjoying the absurd ineptitude of the film but about engaging in the cult and culture surrounding it? Does anyone truly like or enjoy 'The Room'? I fear these questions are unanswerable. I will go to sleep at night... I will go to my grave still wondering. Did Tommy Wiseau win? Were we all in a game we didn't know we were playing? Is this a real-life 'Black Mirror'? These questions are tearing me apart (Lisa)!

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