If you or your friends have recently spent the length of a movie yelling at the screen while throwing plastic spoons, chances are you went to see The Room. The only “midnight movie” whose interactive cult classic status rivals '70s standard The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tommy Wiseau’s entirely self-produced/directed/written film in which he himself stars has captured the imagination of a generation.
Calling it an “it’s so bad, it’s good” movie is not sufficient. The Room transcends logic, both in terms of what constitutes filmmaking as well as understandable human behavior. It’s an exploration of betrayal and a relationship that carries an almost surrealist whimsy and creates a vision of life in San Francisco that’s somehow idealistic and dystopian at the same time. Fans continue to see the film dozens of times, to the point where it’s indistinguishable whether they’re laughing at it, with it, or through it at the absurdities of a world whose circumstances enabled it to exist.
The Room debuted in 2003 at the Wilshire Screening Room. Its fans include Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, David Cross and James Franco, who is reportedly in production to direct a biopic of the film’s genesis. While the film plays monthly in Los Angeles at the Regent Theater, it's about to get one of its biggest platforms yet, thanks to an international live riffing from Rifftrax Live. Part of Fathom Events, the live simulcast will see Rifftrax’s Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy (who fans may remember from television favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000) providing live real time jokes along with the film in over 700 theaters on May 6, with a special encore screening on May 12.
While Wiseau will make appearances at various The Room screenings around the world, he most recently has been devoting his time to his new sitcom The Neighbors, which debuted this year on Hulu. With four episodes currently available, the auteur told us he aspires to eventually make 50. Somewhat polarizing to fans of The Room, Neighbors, which sees Wiseau playing two roles amidst an ensemble cast who play the tenants of a zany apartment building, hasn't quite gotten the momentum of The Room just yet. “We could have more support,” Wiseau tells us, “I’m very happy The Neighbors is on Hulu, but I feel some people are missing the boat because the entertainment industry is a little unjust, I’ll say without bashing anybody.”
The Neighbors seems to have caught viewers off-guard, not unlike how Wiseau says the The Room first befuddled audiences at The Wilshire 12 years ago. “The audience is the audience and weren’t so much different except [today] they are much more prepared and dress up for the events and recite the lines. In [recent] years, people are much more involved with the script.”
The film's gone from Los Angeles to a worldwide phenomenon, triggering its own unique responses wherever it screens. “In London, they really play football for some reason,” during the handful of scenes when characters play catch on-screen with a football, he says. “They don’t really know how, but they do play it.
“I always say you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, just please don’t hurt each other,” he adds.
The film has also inspired audiences to create, and in some cases duplicate, The Room’s essence for their own projects. While Wiseau is fine with fans using a sampling or a brief clip of the film, the various forms of bootlegging is something he frowns upon. Still, Wiseau mentions a recent Chicago screening where a fan approached him after buying ten copies of The Room on Blu-ray. “I said to myself ‘Wow, what a supporting thing!’” But after a few pleasantries were exchanged, the customer admitted that he was buying all these copies as a penance for bootlegging the film online. Wiseau accepted the apology. “It’s not right to steal stuff, but I commend him for saying what he wanted to say. It was very touching the person was saying such a thing and correcting at the same time. It’s a good example of how people can change.”
If you’re willing to contact Wiseau and get permission to have some fun with his film, he’s usually happy to oblige. Of Rifftrax, he says, “They wanted the license and I said ‘why not?’ I’m not a fan of Rifftrax but I support their concept. They’re nice people. It’s a new entertainment, it reminds me of The Room, how people are not ready but people enjoy talking about somebody’s work. There’s nothing wrong as long as they pay for license.”
While Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been around for a quarter-century, the rise of real-time riffing movies online has seen substantial growth as an internet subculture over the past decade. While Rifftrax are the only practitioners thus far to reach 700 theaters with a few special event simulcasted screenings per year, many aspiring young riffers online have chosen The Room as their starting point.
Fans seems to enjoy Wiseau as a pop culture entity not only because of his film but also his mystifying personality and unique way with words. For instance, take his comments on one of his favorite subjects, vampires, the subject of one of his two new films this year. “Vampires have good stigma and bad stigma.” he says, before quickly steering the conversation into human longevity. “Can a human survive 200 years or longer? I feel the answer is yes. It’s not just maintenance, it’s good spirit within yourself. If doesn’t matter which religion you are, we all have it.”
Wiseau then transitions back to the vampire discussion: “When we have it, we can live for a long time, and a vampire is an example of having it, but in [a] negative way they’re killing to survive. If we have good spirit without killing to survive, that’s the direction we should go.”
L.A. Weekly asked him if there’s any misconceptions about him that he’d like to correct. He responded with a few, including the fact that he's actually studied film for “many, many years,” that The Room has a script, and that he very specifically replaced the film’s crew four times (“not two, not three”).
Also a controversial question is where The Room’s budget came from. It's one he usually avoids when asked, but brought it up himself, cryptically saying that attributes it to “Two words: hard work. That’s what America’s all about, and if they don’t understand what I’m trying to say sometimes, that’s their problem. But I’m a happy camper.” Wiseau heartily guffaws, serving as a firm reminder that no matter what people say about him or The Room, he’ll always get the last laugh.
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