Director Tommy Wiseau perches atop a ledge in front of the Laemmle Sunset 5 on the occasion of the monthly screening of his 2003 cult classic, The Room. His maneuver is a bad idea not only because the narrow overhang is approximately 25 feet off the ground but also because it provides more ammunition for the throngs of 20-somethings who wait in line to mock an artist whose claim to fame is creating a massive dud of a film.
Outwardly, the man who says he's from Mars might not acknowledge that his success comes by way of public ridicule. But he is at least savvy enough to understand that his appearance at these screenings translates into notoriety and, most importantly, ticket sales.
On paper, Wiseau's colossal flop sounds like a traditional film. The Room follows a relationship between Johnny (Wiseau) and his “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle). The movie's opening scenes portray a healthy bond amid the lovers, but without provocation, Lisa cheats on Johnny with Johnny's best friend Mark (Greg Sestero) and the trio becomes engaged in a love triangle.
But hundreds of young people don't camp out for nearly two hours on the final Saturday of every month to watch a traditional film. They show up to see The Room, which is shown in all five theaters, to toss plastic spoons at the screen, throw footballs across the aisles, have running conversations with the characters and to meet Wiseau.
Original promotional material for The Room likens the 99-minute flick to a Tennessee Williams production. But the tag “black comedy” was added later to try to make viewers believe Wiseau deliberately created gaping plot holes, contradicting scenes and unexplained dialogue, such as, “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.”
Wiseau is something of an enigma. Not much is known about him, and that goes for his age and the origin of his accent. But his current claims that The Room is designed to evoke any and all responses from audiences suggests he understands enough about the mockery surrounding him to fib and say he purposely created an outlandish movie.
Thus Wiseau has become a demigod to those who are fascinated by him, wondering if he's for real. To his credit, Wiseau takes a beating but remains the people's champ, always giving fans what they want, which often entails hearing about how much he rules.
On this night, after climbing down from the ledge, he walks quickly through the line and shakes hands, takes pictures and tosses footballs with a camera crew following his every move. Students clad in UCLA and USC garb speak to him in a slightly mocking tone, similar to the way fans talk to Borat Sagdiyev, the character from Kazakhstan created by actor Sacha Baron Cohen.
But Wiseau is not a character, not in the fictional sense, anyway.
Wiseau reportedly pumped $7 million into The Room — which he stars in, wrote, directed, produced and served as executive producer. The movie tanked. Hard. In 2008, Ross Morin, assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, aptly described the motion picture to Entertainment Weekly as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
But after its failure, The Room grew into the wildest film screening this side of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Tonight, Wiseau goes to each theater for Q&A sessions that last about 10 minutes. There is no guarantee that he will answer truthfully or directly.
When one guy begins with “Do you like cats?” Wiseau doesn't hesitate before replying, “Yes. I bet you have a black one” so smoothly you wonder if the whole shebang is scripted.
Another audience member inquires why Wiseau is wearing sunglasses indoors at midnight. “Because it's cool,” Wiseau says.
Someone questions why Wiseau is sporting four belts with an all-black attire punctuated by a red tie, but before the filmmaker can respond, another fan asks why there is a hyphen in the name of a drug-dealing character named Chris-R. The young man, wearing neon sunglasses, is asked to come to the front, where Wiseau asks him to repeat the question because he apparently thinks it is ridiculous.
It's not, of course, but Wiseau's reaction to it is one reason many fans believe that he still doesn't understand his audience or the nature of the appeal of his film.
If Wiseau is in on the joke, then this Rocky-esque moment punctuates this loser-becomes-hero tale.
If he's not, at least he's smiling.