The Argus doesn’t normally do previews for movies at the Film Series. You’re not going to read more than a Cinefiles blurb, right? Well, this one is different.
This article is for those of you who have only heard about or seen clips of “The Room,” writer-director-producer-star Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cinematic masterpiece. No, I’m not being ironic. You might have gathered that it’s “the worst film of all time” or something, and here you are, thinking, “I don’t want to watch a bad movie. I’ve seen ‘Troll 2,’ I’ve seen ‘Manos: The Hands Of Fate,’ and where everyone else laughs at how many technical mistakes there are, I just sit there bored with a headache. I’m not in the mood for this.”
Stop. While the “worst ever” label might be correct from an academic standpoint, and is certainly regurgitated by many fans of “The Room” (Roomies?), it doesn’t really get to the heart of what makes “The Room” special. It’s difficult to put into words why the film is so distinctive, but after a rough first couple of minutes it should click. Although it will feel like you’re laughing at the horrible writing, directing, performances, etc., in reality you will be responding to something deeper. In ostensibly trying to be a domestic melodrama, “The Room” flubs not only the basic conventions of film style and narrative structure, but a vast array of psychological truisms often thought to be central to human behavior and experience. Tom Bissell puts it best in his essay “Cinema Crudite,” when he says, “[Filmmaker Wiseau] tried to make a conventional film and wound up with something so inexplicable and casually surreal that no practicing surrealist could ever ape its form, except by exact imitation.”
The first time I saw “The Room” was at a summer film class at Sarah Lawrence (shut up), where our RA basically forced everyone to watch it with him. One disclaimer: the first twenty minutes of the movie might have you convinced you’re watching a soft-core porn film, which would totally not be cool for an RA to trick his residents into seeing. As my class’ rage started to boil over, however, the sex scenes just…stopped. And we were there. I proceeded to play “The Room” at my high school’s graduation bash, which went over well.
Still, even within my reverence, I had my doubts. But any suspicions I had of “The Room” being an elaborate hoax were crushed when, on an assignment for The Argus, I interviewed San Francisco acting coach Chris Phillips, who had attempted to teach Wiseau for a year. None of it is an act. I’ll leave you to parse the literature and try to assemble a coherent biography, but know that he financed the six million dollar film out of his own pocket and seems to have some sexual hangups.
Where most films draw the individual viewer (even within a crowd) into their interior worlds, “The Room” makes its orgy of garish mistakes something to celebrate. As in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” audience participation is key, but as cult films go “The Room” is a lot more accessible. I’ve never met someone in our age bracket who didn’t enjoy “The Room,” and I’m not kidding when I say I’ve made several lifelong friends by introducing them to it. If you go, sit next to a stranger and you’ll see. The Goldsmith Family Cinema has very strict policies on eating, drinking, and smoking, but I’m not sure if there are clauses on football and spoon throwing.
“The Room” is more than a movie. It will show you somewhere else and make you happy about where and what you are. Get there early. It will sell out.