Surviving The Room

Experiencing a live screening of The Room, complete with an intro from Tommy and Greg, was as deliciously unruly as the film itself, writes Lana Crowe

I have seen Tommy Wiseau with my own eyes. I’ll have to feel his wounds before I truly believe he’s real.

Tommy is most famous for being the director, producer, writer and star of the 2003 feature film The Room, alongside his creative partner Greg Sestero. On the surface, The Room is a romantic drama about the strained relationship between successful banker Johnny (Wiseau) and his future wife Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who is having an affair with Johnny’s best friend Mark (Sestero). What actually lies in store is something far more interesting: an amalgam of plot holes, disjointed dialogue and continuity errors have resulted in The Room’s well-earned status as an unrivalled masterpiece of abysmal cinema. The film has become a cult phenomenon, bolstered by 2017’s making-of tale The Disaster Artist, and Wiseau and Sestero’s return to the screen in the upcoming comedy Best F(r)iends.

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Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in The Room

The recent run of 15th anniversary screenings in the Prince Charles Cinema come with an added bonus: Tommy and Greg live in the flesh(?). They loitered in the foyer for the duration of the film: however, in order to meet them, you were, of course, obliged to purchase some merchandise. The whole thing teetered between being an artistic commentary on the film industry, and a sincere and unashamed plug of their cinematic wares. Though I remain unsure whether I’ve been sucked in by an elaborate scam, or have become part of a self-scrutinising meditation on an interesting cinematic experiment – that is, whether I was laughing at The Room, laughing with the filmmakers or merely being laughed at by Tommy Wiseau – I suspect that the answer may be a characteristic hodge-podge as layered as Greg Sestero’s haircut.

The introduction consisted mainly of an awkward Q&A, which was more of a performative exercise than anything akin to a genuine interview. That’s not to say that there wasn’t dialogue between the infamous filmmakers and the audience: Tommy had the crowd in the palm of his hand, treating us to snippets of his famous laugh and his quintessentially evasive attitude. He was a sight to behold in his ill-fitting waistcoat, jeans encircled by a studded harness belt and face (and age) obscured by dark glasses, overwhelming Greg’s reticent stature at the back of the stage. Most questions were disregarded with a wave of the hand and pseudo confusion; any complicated questions were humorously redirected to Greg. One question received Tommy’s approval: “if you could remake another movie, which would it be and why?”. Greg answered with Fight Club, refusing to give a reason because you do not talk about Fight Club. The audience erupted in laughter at Tommy’s characteristically ambitious answer: he’d remake Citizen Kane, because, he surmised, “it’s in black and white – I’d make it in colour”.

The audience was raucous throughout: I suspected that the uninhibited energy of the first ten minutes couldn’t be sustained, but I was grossly mistaken. Every time a character entered a room, cries of “shut the door!” filled the cinema, followed by rowdy applause for the eventual slam. We clapped along to the trite pop music that accompanied the lengthy re-cut love scenes, and cheered at the repeated B-roll of the Golden Gate Bridge. Every appearance of Johnny’s young protégé Denny (Philip Haldiman) was met with delight; each arrival of Mark inspired a cacophony of boos, hisses and squawks of “Judas” (okay maybe that was just me). The most dramatic audience interaction was – you guessed it – the cascade of plastic cutlery at every sighting of the notorious framed spoons: sounding like a herd of noisy cows, chucking spoons like disgruntled toddlers, grimacing like Shia LeBeouf watching himself in Transformers 3.

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The most dramatic audience interaction was the cascade of plastic cutlery at every sighting of the notorious framed spoons

The whole experience was, like the film itself, deliciously unruly. Howls of “but he’s your best friend”, “she’s dying” and “who are you” were unrelenting. The cult fascination with The Room will be considered a relic of metamodernism, characterised by an ambiguous relationship with irony and sincerity. The film itself is striking for its lack of self-deprecation, disregard for sarcasm, and obvious cinematic naivety. It has become more than a bad movie: it’s the bad movie. My advice for surviving The Room? Keep your stupid comments in your pocket and enjoy. And watch out for the spoons.

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