Being in The Room

Those in the counter/pop-culture elite – hip hipsters, bearded grad-school ironists, Tim and Eric fans (myself included), and some others of (usually) college age – probably know what Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is. It’s been described as one of the worst films ever made and one of the funniest. Those who appreciate Ed Wood, Gary Daniels, David Hue, MST3K, etc. but have not seen The Room will have to watch it for themselves – it’s just too difficult to adequately describe. And I’ll spare a long introductory description because you’re reading this online… click the wikipedia link if you’re interested and haven’t already. Over the age of 50? Not tech-savvy? (Same diff.) Move your pointer this direction and > CLICK HERE <. Hope you stumble your way back to the article.

Anyway, provided you have a sense of humor, I guarantee The Room will BLOW YOUR MIND. It’s top quality shlock; as a somber, straight-faced drama, the film has laugh-out loud timing, awkwardly written lines, and garbled english by the writer, director, producer, and star, Mr. Wiseau. However don’t look for it in you local Blockbuster (do those still exist?) or RedBox – despite its growing popularity, this is not a wide-release film. It’s not even a limited release film. Let’s just say it barely was released. Download it online if you can or drive to a college town and find the indie/hipster movie rental store.

Another way to find this movie is at small screenings across the country (Europe too, and soon across the globe I’m sure). I went to see it at my local campus, and like many of these screenings, this one was hosted by Tommy Wiseau himself. Running characteristically late, I made it in the theater (a modified lecture hall) just as the lights dimmed, with Tommy shrieking “Let’s do this! Have a good time!” – bouncing down the stairs and bee-lining down the isle, past the capacity crowd of about 98 hipsters (and 2 older ladies), toward the back of the room. As apparently the custom, Tommy stood at the back of the theater throughout the film.

The movie itself was everything I expected: having seen it before I was privy to all the funny phrases, performances, scenes and situations. And though, I initially felt awkward with Tommy’s presence three rows behind me (more on that later), I couldn’t hide my giggling as the film slowly clambered on; the rest of the audience didn’t spare any of their laughter either. Later, I embarrassed myself with a long fit of uncontrollable guffawing at the film’s jogging scene (while running in the park, the two main characters inexplicably throw a football between them – the 4th or 5th time we see absurd football-tossing camaraderie in the movie).  The screening was definitely an event: kind of a Rocky Horror Picture Show mixed with Mystery Science Theater – all in a hipster stew. Some took to yelling at the film’s idiosyncrasies (e.g. “who the hell are you?” shouted when new characters appear on screen with no explanation), others would boisterously affect concern during the clumsily melodramatic scenes. Such a loud, carnival-like atmosphere, I’m surprised no-one brought a beach ball… or better, a football, for the crowd to hit around. One (long) hour and a half, 4 gratuitous full-length sex scenes, innumerable redundant lines, and many laughs later, the film was over.

All well and good – I defy anyone to watch the movie and not laugh at something. And though I felt awkward knowing Tommy was behind me, I couldn’t help but laugh at what I consider to be a very funny movie.

But what made me feel a bit queasy (besides the smell pervading the room of hipsters doing the “no-deodorant” thing) was the Q&A after-wards with Tommy. There was no shortage of “fans” with questions. And though no one was outwardly hostile (one person commented that “some people” were calling The Room the worst movie of all time) Tommy’s noticeable passive-aggressiveness was only matched by the questioners’ gleefully snarky tone.  Strangely, Tommy refused to answer many questions about the financing, filming, inspiration for, and intent of the film, saying that he had already answered those questions if the audience would just pay attention (he hadn’t). Many other questions weren’t worth answering – “what’s your favorite planet?” “what’s your favorite dish at T.G.I. Friday’s?” “would you rather be a woman in the mid-20th century or a motorcycle?” But Tommy usually did answer these, though his responses were sometimes so profoundly dissociative that one wonders how much spoken English he understands.

The questions were clearly meant comedically, or possibly to get a funny response, but it’s harder to tell whether they were also intended to be demeaning or what (many of the hipsters’ behaviors are still a mystery to me). A couple times, Tommy (to the surprise of a suddenly anxious audience) took perfectly banal, polite questions to be quite insulting, such as “what are your favorite movies?” and “who are your favorite directors?”  He answered these with a string of mumbled words, some expletives, before dismissing the nervous fan.

I noted that Tommy felt most at ease when “being random” and playing (or flirting) with the audience, and showed the most discomfort when probed about his creative process, the craft of film, or movies in general. Supposedly that’s how he is at every Q&A. One might conclude that he doesn’t know much of anything about film and feels threatened by these questions. This would confirm that The Room was meant to be a serious film and, contrary to what some (including Tommy) would like to believe, it is not a work of genius but rather one of incompetence.

Which raises the question, are we justified laughing at his film in front of his face? He’s clearly making money and appreciates attention, and the cost, so far, to his dignity hasn’t stopped him. In fact, he claims not to care about the barbs, so long as it’s “bringing people together” and they’re “having a fun time” (phrases he uses so often they seem like his mantra). I personally felt a little bit guilty laughing at someone’s earnest work in the presence of that person, but at the same time I do not feel bad (nor can I help) laughing at what I think is an inherently funny train-wreck.

What did creep me out in the end, was the Q&A – being part of a crowd that encourages a man to forsake his dignity in exchange for money and popularity. Tommy wants so badly to be “in on the joke” that he has rebranded his film as a “dark comedy” and himself as a Kaufmanesque weird genius. The sad reality for Mr. Wiseau is that he is the butt of the joke, and as deluded as Hollywood aspirants can be, it is utterly apparent in his tortured, surreal interactions with his “fans” that he knows it.

How long can someone maintain such irreconcilable cognitive dissonance? I don’t know, but the next time I watch The Room (I will watch it again, and I will laugh), I’ll avoid opportunities to bully its creator, willing as he is to play the fool, and instead mock it in the privacy of my own room.

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