The Room – the cult phenomenon

23 08 2010

I am a bit partial to chasing the free tickets sometimes offered by community radio 2xxfm, where I am a subscriber and past volunteer. Most of the films I have seen have been quite obscure and best defined as international, art house (for example Let the right one in). I don’t think I have ever scored tickets to a film that could be considered bad as I love films that are not mainstream cinema.

This time I was fortunate to score tickets to The Room, (2003, Tommy Wiseau, Dir) a D grade film that has cult status. I arrived at the cinema with no expectations, aside from the email promotion stating that it was the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”. If I had more time beforehand, I would have done some reasearch and looked at reviews like The Crazy Cult of ‘The Room’, so I would have been prepared.

The first thing I noticed was the audience, who my companion commented were ‘hyperactive’. There were instruction sheets on the chair for audience participation and I wondered if this was like Rocky Horror Picture show, where people can engage in the action. Some guys were throwing a football around and the people seated close to us were very sociable, reassuring us that we would enjoy it. And that we did.

Originally promoted by the slogan “A film with the passion of Tennessee Williams”, the movie tells the story of Johnny, a San Francisco banker played by Wiseau, whose fiancée Lisa has an affair with his best friend Mark. At the beginning of the film, Lisa has become inexplicably dissatisfied with Johnny, confiding to her best friend Michelle and her mother Claudette that she finds him boring. Lisa seduces Mark, and they begin an affair that continues throughout the film, even as Mark more than once tries to break it off. Throughout the film there are numerous sub-plots that are never followed up – for example Lisa’s mum being diagnosed with breast cancer. Then there is the random guy who shows up at Johnny’s party who is not introduced, though he seems closely connected with the main characters. In one scene, the characters are wearing tuxedos and in another they are passing around a football, both for no apparent reason.

As soon as the film credits started the audience cheered wildly. It appears that Wiseau directed, wrote and producted this film as well as having the starring role. Every time his name came up the audience called out “Tommy, Tommy”. From that point the interaction was constant, from throwing plastic sppons (a reference to a framed picture), running around the cinema and passing footballs, calling out “Hi Johnny”, “Hi Danny”, jeering at the unerotic love scenes (the one with Wiseau is quite revolting), and clapping along to the RB music used during Lisa and Mark’s sex scenes.

Clark Collis comments that “Late-night showings of cult films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Big Lebowski are known for their rowdy and strange behavior too. But people who go to see Rocky Horror and Lebowski think those films are good.” I must agree, Rocky Horror is a film I have seen many times at the cinema and on video and I used to have the soundtrack on vinyl and probably could still sing along word for word. I do think it is a good film, it is smart and funny and challenges traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.

The Room is not a good film, but it IS so bad it is good. Would I see it again? Well, yes, if I get to enjoy the antics of audience and have my own plastic spoons to throw at the screen.