Sitting in a Los Angeles theater, late at night, to purposely watch a bad movie is already kind of a surreal experience. But when that particular movie is “The Room,” you soon learn that you’ve entered a whole other realm of what-is-happening-here.
“The Room” is a 99-minute movie (yet it feels like hours) written, directed and starring some European guy named Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau plays Johnny, a San Francisco businessman hopelessly in love with his “future wife.” But there’s a problem: his future wife doesn’t love him. We know this when she begins sleeping with his best friend.
It’s an OK premise – a soapy premise, but an OK one. So, how could you possibly screw up something so simple? If you’re Wiseau, you screw it up a lot. “The Room” is one of those movies you can’t believe got made. Everything, from the performances to the narrative to the direction, is just jaw-droppingly wrong. There are countless continuity errors. Subplots are established, then quickly discarded. Characters vanish, while new ones pop up as though they’ve been in the film from the beginning. One character casually mentions she has breast cancer and never mentions it again.
“Room” is just one of many lousy films that have been transformed into an exhilarating, midnight-movie experience. (It runs tonight at Columbia’s Nickelodeon.) Usually, movies that play at theaters and revival houses at that time of night have an offbeat, cult rep to them. They’re either campy (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), perverse (“Pink Flamingos”) or just plain strange (“Eraserhead”).
But there are those midnight movies that are so bad, they’re wonderful. When it became one of the worst films of the ’90s, “Showgirls” began hitting the midnight-movie circuit.
Many Angelenos have turned “Room” into a midnight-movie phenomenon that could easily rival “Rocky Horror,” with “Room” screenings springing up all over the country. Entertainment Weekly published an article about the movie’s popularity among members of Judd Apatow’s comedy camp.
At the theater, all five auditoriums were packed for this one movie. Once it started, the audience was ready with wisecracks. Whenever an inexplicably framed photo of a spoon showed up in a shot, the audience hurled plastic spoons. When the movie’s final love scene appeared, many audience members left in mock disgust, taking this time to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom.
Los Angeles-based blogger and film-industry gadfly Andrew Dignan is a “Room” fanatic. He explained, via e-mail, why this film has became such an entertaining yet weirdly unnerving sensation.
“There are plenty of terrible films out there,” he said, “yet the cult of ‘The Room’ has turned the evisceration of this ostensibly modest, indie drama into a regularly scheduled public stoning – only it’s spoons being hurled – so that everyone in attendance, from amateur screenwriters to daytripping movie stars, can feel superior to the film.”
Adds Dignan, “It’s the closest L.A. people come to laughing in the face of death.”
Greensboro, N.C., film writer and promoter Joe Scott played both “Room” and “Troll 2” during a month of midnight-movie screenings, and they were both successful. He was also impressed with how local audiences knew what to yell at the screen during “Room.”
Scott also thinks we live in a society where young people can’t wait to get their snark on, to live out their own little episode of that ’90s TV heckle-fest “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” where a man and a couple of robots kept a running, insult-filled commentary during a bad movie.
“You know, we’re a very ironic generation,” he says, “and that goes without saying with the newfound celebrity of Hall and Oates. It’s reflected in movies, you know. We’re the generation that put ‘Snakes on a Plane’ in a movie theater and made it a hit. We’re just snarky and we like making fun of things.”