Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the (Box Office) Bomb

Adrian Belmes


Spoons. Spoons everywhere. There are spoons in my hair. There are spoons at my feet. There are spoons soaring overhead, like graceful murmurations of plastic starlings. A spoon lands directly in my lap. This is my spoon now. I must throw it.

Record scratch.

Freeze frame.

Actually, I should start this off by saying that I didn’t mean to end up here at all.

My original intention was to go to a concert of one of my favorite bands, AJJ. They’re pretty eclectic and certainly what would suit this journal’s penchant for the experimental. But scheduling conflicts decided it was not to be. I thought I’d have nothing to write about… until a friend linked a Facebook event for a midnight viewing of the most baffling movie ever made.

I couldn’t resist.

220px-TheRoomMovieAs any aficionado of film, I’ve seen the masterpiece that is The Room at least a dozen times, always accompanied by raucous drinking and running commentary a la MST3K. Most people, when viewing such an astoundingly awful movie, tend to do the same. It’s an integral part of the fun of watching these sorts of flicks. But The Room is so, so much more than a evening in with friends and a goon bag.

The cultural phenomena begins with the movie itself. The Room is, to put it really lightly, a terrible movie. It is so bad, that it occupies that unique cultural niche of being famous solely for just how bad it is. As I’m sure you’ve already heard by now, there’s a movie coming out about the process of creating this insane masterpiece. The director and leading man, Tommy Wiseau, has been described on multiple occasions as an alien masquerading very poorly as a human being. (I’ve actually met him a couple of times on the convention circuit. Having a conversation with him is the equivalent of continually microdosing LSD and trying to follow  astrophysics documentary). Now, imagine that alien making and starring in a movie tackling the most difficult human emotional concepts. It’s… truly incredible.

The plot of the movie itself is hardly relevant to the event of viewing it. All you really need to know about it is that there’s a guy named Johnny, and his best friend has sex with his wife. So, so much horrific, drawn-out, egregious sex.

Post-release, the movie almost immediately gained a cult following. What began as a few friends (circumstantially led by 5-Second Films‘ Michael Rousselet) mocking the film during its initial showing exploded into a national spectacle of monthly or more midnight screenings with fans numbering in the thousands.

It’s not the only movie to be the subject of this ritual. There is a long-standing tradition of “midnight movies”, b-movies and cult classics screened at the witching hour for maximum cultish fun, though not all of them have such intense subcultures of audience participation. Rocky Horror Picture Show is arguably the most famous of this variety, frequently credited with starting the movement. It even has a quasi-official guidebook in the form of an annotated script.

The midnight movie is an odd little form of what I see to be a great human tradition: taking the established and turning it on its head. The viewing of a film is a strict experience. You sit quietly. You behave. You talk politely over chicken strips and french fries about it afterwards. Midnight screenings break and encourage the breaking of all of these social norms. You throw things at the screen. You make a mess. You’re loud and obnoxious and talk over the movie to the point where the movie itself is completely unintelligible over the din of exhuberant noise. It’s a transformative experience.

I did a little research before embarking on this mythic journey. Plenty of people have posted guides and little how-to’s for maximum viewing enjoyment, complete with inventory lists of objects to chuck at the screen and specific call and response style lines. It’s worth noting, however, that these traditions tend to be a bit regional. Each theater has its own rules of play and subculture of locals. The Ken Cinema has been running midnight viewings for a few years now and no doubt would have some of its own oddities. There was no way to know but to experience it first-hand, virginally.

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Over the course of the day, as I tried to reverse my sleep schedule with daytime naps in preparation, a bizarre game of telephone unfolded. Initially, it was just myself and two friends who would brave the evening. But by virtue of the Facebook event that started this all marked as “going”, others began to reach out with messages of, “Yo, you’re seeing The Room tonight?”. The final tally came to this: myself, the two original squad, another friend, her boyfriend, his brother, my classmate, her sister, and their mutual friend with me. In other words, 6 Degrees of People Who All Know Adrian But Not Each Other.

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At 10:30 pm, I picked up the first of the squad, then proceed to the theater. We ended parking a bit of a walk away, as the streets of Kensington were typically packed for a Saturday evening of carousing. We caught up with the rest of our friends at the front of the line. Right on time, too, as we were ushered inside the old theater momentarily after, taking our seats and marveling at how many people were already there. Actually, three of our party arrived late and weren’t able to get in at all. The showing had sold out. This was apparently unheard of, but was attributed to the upcoming release of The Disaster Artist and the general public desire to refresh oneself in the arcane art of true horror before viewing the behind-the-scenes of it. And, sure enough, the theater began to fill. As far as I could tell in the dim light, there wasn’t a single empty seat.

Before the movie even began, the festivities were already in full swing. A particularly rowdy group in the back started up a rhythmic chant of “Greg Sestero! *clap clap clapclapclap*”, getting the whole theater in on it. In the middle of this, one of my friends turned to me and, amazingly giddy, said, “I got my Tommy Wiseau undies on and I’m ready to ****in’ party”. (A real thing available for purchase, by the way). The excitement was palpable in the ominous death rattle of plastic spoons being prepped for launch. Eventually, the lights dimmed, the projector whirred to life, and the room started screaming. This was going to rip roarin’ good time.

After an extended series of trailers produced by Wiseau in promotion of his materials, the real fun began. From the first seconds to the last roll of the credits, it was a nonstop rollercoaster of yelling, laughter, and collective whinging. If I had never seen the film before, I’d be baffled. But as a semi-experienced viewer, I caught on pretty quickly to all the gags and call-out lines. Seemed like a lot of others present were doing the same. There was a synergistic effect of sorts. The further into the film we got and the more people shouted, the more people gained the confidence to join in. The energy of the place was incredible, picking up everyone into its swift current. And anytime someone introduced something new, the rest followed and repeated. Experimentation on the medium with instant gratification. I’m sure this would be a fantastic case study of mob mentality.

Doors were a particular subject of audience contention, because nobody ever seemed to shut them on screen. The longer a door remained open, the louder and more aggressive the outcries of frustration and cursing would get. And when it finally closed, orgasmic relief and cheering all around.

During the multiple different inexplicable sequences of casual football tossing, a few plastic footballs were circulated through the crowd like the inevitable concert blow-up doll. A couple of audience members, one even dressed as Wiseau, traipsed the aisles, playing games of their own with actual footballs and foam ones. It was a delightful scene of chaos.

Then came the spoons. Oh, dear reader, how can I describe the glorious flight of the white plastic spoons that I had, until that moment, only ever read about in my wildest Wikipedia dives? The cue and cause for these is the truly inexplicable presence of framed pictures of cutlery throughout the film. Yes, I am completely serious.

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The pictures panned into frame, and up the spoons went, in the hundreds. None of our group had brought any of our own, but we gathered that the commonly accepted method was to pick up grounded spoons and re-ascend them. This happened every single time the spoons showed, and then some. The jubilant chucking of plastic cutlery acted as a sort of physicalization of the audience’s enjoyment of whatever madness was happening on screen. Gunshots? Spoons. A fight breaks out? Spoons. A sex scene finally ends? Spoons (and rose petals, in the case of one girl in the very front row).

There’s a few other things worth mentioning that occurred with such high frequency throughout the course of the evening, that recounting each individual instance would be impossible:

  • Singing the line “you are my rose” over and over again whenever the song of the same name would come on, regardless of actual lyrics, rhythm, or tune
  • Chanting “Go! Go! Go!” whenever the camera would pan.
  • Shouting “Focus!” whenever the shot was out of focus.
  • A collective “Meanwhile!” in response to the gratuitous shots of San Francisco reminding us that, yes, the film takes place in San Francisco.
  • Greeting and bidding goodbye to characters as they entered and exited the scenes, frequently remarking “But you just got here!” in acknowledgement of the unrealistic pace of conversations.
  • Mercilessly repeating back Tommy Wiseau’s deranged giggle whenever it came up.

An unexpected highlight of the night came courtesy of some veteran viewers. At one specific point during the birthday party scene in the final portion of the movie, Johnny waves to seemingly nobody at all. Anticipating this exact moment, audience members from all parts of the theater ran up to the right-hand corner of the screen to wave back up at him. Stellar execution. We weren’t the only ones surprised, as much of the audience erupted into what felt like a full-minute of crippling laughter.

The climax came and went, and the credits rolled amid riotous cheers and enthusiastic clapping. As the lights in the theater came on, the true carnage unfolded. All over the ground, on every conceivable surface, a proverbial massacre of spoons.

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Audience members humbly did their part to clean up the wreckage, a gesture of “thanks for letting us trash this place” that perhaps ensured the continuation of this insane tradition.

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This sight in particular, I think, perfectly summarizes my night out. An epic deluge of something so simple gone so horribly right that left me feeling totally destroyed and a little bit in love.

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