I had seen “The Room” a couple of times, but never in a theater full of people. I understood the absurdity of the film and how truly terrible it is — so terrible that it inspired a memoir and movie adaptation called “The Disaster Artist” that explores the movie’s troubled production. I had seen both “The Room” and “The Disaster Artist” before, tricking myself into believing that I understood the fandom that surrounded “The Room.” But I was not ready for the experience that is seeing a late-night showing in a theater jam-packed with enthusiastic fans.
“The Room” stars the writer, director and executive producer Tommy Wiseau (“Best F(r)iends”) as a man named Johnny in a turbulent relationship with his fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle, “Dead Kansas”) and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero, “Best F(r)iends”). Lisa has fallen out of love with Johnny and starts an affair with Mark. Much of the movie focuses on characters unrelated to the main storyline, an attempt to show a slice of life that results in a majority of the movie distracting from the main characters. One such character is Denny (Philip Haldiman, “Room Full of Spoons”), a college student who is financially supported by Johnny, and who has a violent encounter with a drug dealer, only for it to never be brought up again. It is hard to follow the plot of the movie, as characters have wild changes in their mood without warning. One notable example is Mark attempting to kill his friend Peter (Kyle Vogt, “Monarch of the Moon”), quickly followed by an apology and the two acting as if nothing happened. The unfortunate byproduct of this is a movie that is often described as the worst ever made.
I learned about the bizarre traditions for group viewings of “The Room” just hours before seeing the movie, leaving me woefully unprepared for the ridiculousness. I knew maybe a handful of the many famous quotes but had no idea when scenes tied to specific traditions would occur and did not bring any spoons to throw at the screen — my years cleaning movie theaters in high school made me feel guilty about the idea of creating such a mess. These feelings of guilt were quickly alleviated when an announcement was made to throw the spoons up in the air instead of at the screen in order to not damage the screen itself, giving an indirect confirmation from the Michigan Theater staff that they understood the atmosphere of the event.
Before the film, Sestero was in the lobby meeting fans and throwing around a football, a reference to the fact that Mark and Johnny will often play catch at seemingly random times throughout the movie. I felt bad for Sestero at first, worrying that he was tired of hearing the same jokes repeated endlessly, but he had a sense of humor about the situation. I expected an old man exhausted from decades talking about the same movie, but I was met with an actor who still loved to talk about his passion: making movies. His precursor Q&A is when I realized just how hardcore some fans of “The Room” are. One audience member had such a spot-on impression of Johnny that I have to believe he spent hours rehearsing it. Using his own Johnny impression that would give the audience member a run for his money, Sestero talked about how Wiseau would constantly replace the production staff and forget his own lines for hours on end. He was feeding off of the energy from the crowd, performing something similar to a stand-up comedy routine based on his experiences making the film.
With anticipation built up and ready to burst, the film and its ensuing chaos finally began. There wasn’t a moment of silence from the audience for the entire 100-minute runtime. When people weren’t laughing at the horrible acting, they were shouting out quotes or coming up with their own joke responses to what was happening on the screen. Spoons were thrown whenever one appeared in the background of the set — it occurs many more times than one would expect — and I was lucky enough to get some from the group behind me who had bought a massive pack in anticipation of the ritual. It dawned on me that this is where the phrase “cult classic” must come from. An entire theater had descended into complete anarchy. Everyone had paid to watch a movie they knew was utterly horrible, and they were enjoying it nonetheless. Every terrible scene just seemed to increase the intensity of the crowd, pushing them farther into their collective breakdown, and I loved every single minute of it.
Late-night showings of old movies are something I’ve always relished, but “The Room” is an unrivaled experience. The worst movie ever made might just produce the best theater experience out there.
Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.