They love that it’s so bad If you go, bring a spoon Bomb scores a direct hit
The independent film “The Room” didn’t exactly make a splash when it opened six years ago. Critics panned it -- the few who reviewed it, that is -- and moviegoers stayed away in droves.
So why, on a Saturday night, are hundreds of people lined up around the second-floor space of Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater on Sunset Boulevard, waiting to see it? And why are many of them lugging bags full of plastic spoons?
“The Room” has become the latest cult movie sensation, complete with its own rituals and rules of engagement.
Moviegoers, some dressed as characters in the film, flock to the Los Angeles multiplex for monthly midnight screenings. (The next one is on Halloween.) During showings, audience members rush to the screen and imitate action in the film, performing scenes including tossing footballs and engaging in dialogue with characters. Similar spectacles unfold at theaters across the country and in Canada and Britain.
The low-budget tale of lust and betrayal doesn’t inspire such fanatical devotion because it’s good.
People love “The Room” because it’s so transcendently awful.
“It’s fantastically bad,” said Devon Brady, 18, a freshman at Chapman University in Orange who has seen the movie four times. “When you think it couldn’t get worse, it does. And with each viewing there’s something more awful to be discovered.”
“The Room” aspires to be a dark comedy. It was written, directed and produced by Tommy Wiseau, 41, who also stars as a stringy-haired banker named Johnny. The story, set in San Francisco, centers on a love triangle involving Johnny, his best friend, Mark, and Johnny’s fiancee, Lisa, who has sexual liaisons with both men.
You don’t have to be Roger Ebert to spot the flaws -- it’s 99 minutes of blunders and idiosyncrasies. Editing errors abound. Characters are inadequately introduced. Subplots, such as the revelation that Lisa’s mother has cancer, fade into the ether.
There are random interludes during which Johnny and other male characters toss a football at close range; at one point, they’re in tuxedos for no apparent reason. Then there are the awkward, drawn-out sex scenes. One erotic moment is simply a recycling of an earlier one -- literally.
Variety described “The Room” as “a movie that prompts most of its viewers to ask for their money back -- before even 30 minutes have passed.”
A review posted on Internet Movie Database’s website was equally unsparing: “This film is like getting stabbed in the head.”
That’s OK. “Roomies,” as they call themselves, relish every wretched minute.
“It’s a beast of a cult film,” said the publisher of Cult Movies magazine, who goes by the single name Schroeder. “I get e-mails every day asking about it. The fan base just continues to grow. There’s nothing good about the movie, but when you put all its bad elements together -- the bad lighting, the horrible acting, the continuity -- it’s just so comical that you become so engrossed with it that it forces you to like it.
“That’s what a true cult flick is. And there’s been very few films out there that have generated such intense audience participation.”
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the godfather of cult films and a pioneer in the midnight movie genre. Zealous admirers of the 1975 musical comedy go to screenings in flamboyant attire; throw toast, water, toilet paper and rice at appropriate points; and shout responses at the screen.
At Lebowski Fests, fans of the 1998 Coen brothers film “The Big Lebowski” arrive in their finest bowling attire. “Showgirls,” the 1995 drama about Vegas strippers and dancers, is also on the midnight circuit. Followers mimic dance moves from the box-office flop when they’re not shouting lines at the screen.
“The Room” is the latest participatory juggernaut. Midnight screenings began at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 shortly after the film’s release in 2003. Wiseau, who often attends the monthly extravaganzas and engages in brief question-and-answer sessions with the audience, said he contacted the cinema after receiving “hundreds” of e-mails from fans “demanding” to see it.
“It definitely wasn’t a blockbuster movie when it initially came out. But it’s an amazing testament to the power of word-of-mouth,” said theater owner Greg Laemmle, who has yet to see the film. “My teenage son was telling me how he and his friends were going to go see it. It could have just disappeared . . . but it didn’t. It slowly spawned a huge following. It’s quite remarkable. “
It started with one screen. Then two. Now it’s shown on five screens and often sells out.
“This is the holy grail of craptastic movies,” said Moss Krivin, 35, who was at the Laemmle for a recent showing, clutching a spoon. “You have to see it to believe it. It’s a movie so ridiculous that it’s good.”
The so-bad-it’s-good vibe creates a zany atmosphere inside the theaters as fans turn the spaces into a cinematic carnival. Streams of toilet paper float through the air. Some patrons come dressed as characters in the film, wearing blond wigs with black eyebrows (to match the on-screen appearance of Lisa, the woman at the center of the love triangle) or oversized tuxedoes.
During one lengthy amorous interlude, audience members yell “Intermission!” before filtering out of the theater to stretch or smoke.
Mostly, they comment, loudly. They shout “Focus!” during blurry scenes. They sing “Everywhere You Look,” the theme song from the 1990s sitcom “Full House,” when a shot of San Francisco houses reminiscent of the TV show’s opening sequence appears on screen. They count -- “One! Two!” -- each time Mark is described as Johnny’s best friend.
And they spout choice lines of dialogue:
“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”
“Anyway, how’s your sex life?”
“I did not hit her. I did nauuught.”
And “Hi, doggie.”
Then there are the plastic spoons. The disposable pieces of cutlery are a recurring visual in “The Room,” appearing in framed artworks in the rooms where action unfolds. On cue, the audience chucks fistfuls of plastic spoons at the screen, creating a monsoon of synthetic flatware. By the end of the night, the debris is everywhere.
Wiseau, who cites Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Tennessee Williams as inspirations, is stingy with personal details beyond saying that he studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Laney College in Oakland and various acting studios.
In addition to “The Room,” he co-directed an independent documentary, “Homeless in America” (2004). He says he is working on a sitcom pilot called “The Neighbors” and has a vampire film in the works.
Wiseau says every peculiar on-screen moment in “The Room” was intentional, and he professes not to be offended by the audience reaction, no matter how extreme.
“I like when people express themselves,” the auteur said minutes before a stampede of fans was let inside a recent midnight screening. “It’s connecting audiences, and people have fun with it. The more you see ‘The Room,’ the more you improve your life -- that’s my philosophy.
“And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ‘The Room’ helps reduce crime in America because you spend time to watch it and think about the world -- how to be better. Yeah, some of the scenes may be quirky; some of the love scenes are too long. But fact is fact. You enjoy yourself and say, ‘Wait a minute, can I be better?’ ”
Maybe fans simply like the spectacle.
“It’s all about the experience,” said Jason Cuadrado, who runs TheRoomFanSite.com. “You don’t go to quietly see this movie. You really go because it is an event. It’s an event to stand in line. It’s an event to crowd into a theater and run around looking for seats. And it’s an event to see people enjoy a film in ways you never thought people could enjoy a film.”
“The Room” is available on DVD. Fans can also listen to sound bites at theroomsoundboard.com and use them as ring tones. A Facebook page dedicated to the movie has nearly 5,000 fans. On YouTube, video tributes and clips from screenings are bountiful.
Greg Sestero, who stars as Mark in the film, says he knew people would mock it. But he acknowledges he was surprised by its second life as a cult phenomenon.
“When I saw the film, I just knew people would laugh their heads off,” Sestero said. “It’s in its own world. A very, very weird world. . . . The fact that hundreds of people come out to see it now is not something one can expect or even explain.”
Wiseau hopes the film will inspire a Broadway adaptation. For now, he’d like to have it shown at Staples Center, and he’s using the fan site to spread the word. Users who sign up to be on the site’s mailing list are asked to sign a petition to have the film shown at the L.A. venue.
“The fact is ‘The Room’ connects people,” Wiseau said. “What better way to show that than having 20,000 people see it at the same time, same place? It would be a beautiful thing.”