A few weeks ago I went to see a film called The Room. Haven’t heard of it? Well it’s the big sleeper hit of the last decade. It’s taken years for it to gather momentum after its initial short theatre run. Gradually, its reputation has grown and the film is being shown across America and now it has begun to get a reaction in the UK as well.
What’s so special about The Room? Well.....It’s rubbish. It’s generally regarded to be the worst film of the 21st century so far.
The Room is a throwback to old school days of bad filmmaking. It’s not one of those professional disasters where a filmmaker goes off the rails and creates a bomb that inspires hatred and/or boredom. The Room is that rare beast of a film where amateurs with almost no filmmaking skills and no talent somehow managed to put something together that looks at far glance like something that could’ve been a proper production, but isn’t.
The film is written, produced and stars (never a good start) by Tommy Wiseau, a strange accented lumpy man who first marketed the move as “A film with the passion of Tenessee Williams” overlooking the fact that it’s spelt Tennessee. When people fell about laughing at the premiere, he tried to sell it as a comedy. People laughed, but no one was buying it.
The film revolves around Tommy and his apparently beautiful future wife (not fiancé - this word is unknown to them), who have been together for 5 or 7 years depending which scene you watch. Tommy is a wonderful man (so we’re told over and over) but Lisa has become bored of him and seduces his best friend (so we’re told over and over again) Mark. The film charts the disintegration of their relationship and the revelation of Lisa’s betrayal.
But that’s not all. Denny, who is like a son to Tommy, buys some drugs and is threaten by a dealer. Lisa’s mum has cancer, is fighting with her brother over a house and has relationship troubles. Lisa’s best friend is having sex with some guy. It’s a rich tapestry of different related stories which are irrelevantly introduced and then quickly forgotten about.
It’s a stupid and bizarre film, an innocent effort that the creators really wanted to work, and as result, has gained the sort of following that Ed Wood films now enjoy. And as the legend of The Room has spread, people have begun to gather. They gather at late night screenings, they bring their friends, and they arrive fully versed in all things The Room.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the experience. I knew the film’s reputation had spread and in America it was becoming big, but I didn’t know that already people over in the UK had taken it to heart. I should’ve seen the indicators, 4th screening at the Prince Charles Cinema, 4th sell out in a row – it’s not a small place. As I walked in, a small lady on a stool handed a sheet of ‘rituals’ that you could follow throughout the movie. I also noticed lots of people holding plastic spoons.
The ritual sheets suggested a number of ways to interact with the movie. Such as shouting ‘Who are you?’ when new characters appear and you’re supposed to know/care who they are; ‘Cancer’ when Lisa’s mum arrives on screen, because she forgets about it almost as soon as she says she has it; ‘meanwhile in San Francisco’ because of the many establishing shots of San Francisco, even though almost all the action happens, as the title suggests.
Oh and the spoons... Well there is some artwork in the apartment which features spoons for some reason. So whether the camera passes said artwork, audience members throw plastic spoons at the screen.
The audience is given full license to misbehave as much as they like. People expressed their loud disgust at the awful sex scenes, constantly mocked the rubbish dialogue and applauded loudly at the most pointless scenes in the movie. It was a little like being in classroom where the teacher’s been gone for ages.
It can be annoying; some of the people aren’t funny and naturally won’t shut up. But having a whole group of people there made this film. Watching them erupt into applause at pointless scenes, hearing them point out the ridiculous things you didn’t notice. It was like being in a great audience at a comedy show or at great gig. The sheer momentum of people there determined to have a good time makes it hard not to enjoy the anarchy. Even if you’ve seen the film before, you’ll never know what’s going to come next.
What The Room proves is that just like any great movie, the way to watch a bad movie is on a big screen with an audience. Seeing The Room is like no other experience you can have at the cinema, an excuse to be as badly behaved as you like; and the film is so much funnier than almost any comedy you’ll see on a big screen.
The film is showing monthly at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. Try it; you’ll struggle to find something else that much fun for a fiver on a Saturday night.