There's something alarming about the fact that the strangest thing in this photo is Tommy Wiseau's limp peace sign. All photos via DJ Stevie V Productions/The Room Monthly Montreal Screening Group
I became a happier person when I first learned of The Room’s existence in 2008. At that point, Tommy Wiseau’s terrible opus had already turned into a true cult phenomenon, complete with the endorsement of mainstream celebrities like Paul Rudd, David Cross, Jonah Hill, and Kristen Bell. Although it had started out as the very definition of a critical and commercial flop, The Room was suddenly relevant.
Unlike so many other disaster art crazes, however, The Room’s newfound popularity was more than just a passing trend. After the Rocky Horror–esque midnight screenings started to spread like wildfire, Wiseau took the film on tour, delighting his legions of devoted fans around the world. Doing everything in his power to keep the machine running, he’s put out multiple editions of the film, including a recent $30 Blu-ray release for everyone who absolutely needs to own a high definition showcase of Wiseau’s face (and, of course, his perfectly framed ass in that shot following one of film’s creepy sex scenes). He’s still talking about releasing a 3D version of the film, as well as adapting it for Broadway.
The most significant development of late, however, is that James Franco will be directing a movie based on The Room co-star Greg Sestero’s book, The Disaster Artist, which offers an insider’s look into the film’s insane production.
So when I heard that Wiseau and Sestero would be present at a special screening of the film at Montreal’s Dollar Cinema, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than by watching this comically terrible film at a grungy theatre located in one of the most depressing malls in Canada. Although the event’s organizer Stevie Vecera (a.k.a. DJ Stevie V) admitted that the screening had been hastily planned, it was nevertheless sold out.
“It’s one of my favourite movies,” Vecera says. “I’ve been watching it for so long. I just wanted to get Tommy and Greg. I’ve seen them all around the world doing screenings here and there, and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t get them here in Montreal.”
I showed up around 12:15 to find roughly 200 people already waiting around toward the back of the mall outside of the theater’s main entrance, extending almost all the way to the Sears Liquidation Center at the front of the semi-abandoned complex.
Tommy, running through the crowd and high-fiving fans like a young Shawn Michaels
Although the advertised entry time was 1 PM, Wiseau and Sestero were already busy meeting and greeting in the cinema’s cramped lobby, surrounded by well-worn couches and piles of reasonably priced T-shirts, posters, and DVDs.
As the anticipation grew, a sudden massive round of cheering and applause came from the front of the line. Wiseau himself had burst forward from the theater and was now running down the line, high-fiving as many of his adoring fans as possible, looking like Jay Leno’s ambiguously European counterpart.
The sight of a frantically sprinting Wiseau shocked my system. The gaunt frame, the shades, the jet-black flowing locks—it was everything I’d come to expect from pictures and footage I’d seen of the man—but what really caught me off guard was his outfit.
At around 46 (his exact birth date, like much of his background, remains a mystery), Wiseau still dresses like a Russian teenager going to prom. My eyes were immediately drawn to his belts. So. Many. Belts. In my memory, he wore at least a dozen, but it’s quite possible he was only sporting two. At least one of them was completely useless, hanging off his body, suspended only by misplaced confidence.
As he zoomed past, I stretched out my hand, hoping for some palm, but was sadly denied. Upon reaching the back of the line he turned around and kept right on running, this time on the other side, trying to make contact with the few fans he had missed the first time around. He approached again, now letting out a primal scream, and amazingly, I missed his hand once more. I need to work on this.
Soon after the manic episode, the crowd was let inside. I aimed straight for the screening room to secure decent seats. Settling in, I learned that the film was only supposed to start at 3 PM, and so it seemed there was more time to kill. It was the perfect moment to get a picture with the ringleader.
He was still in the lobby with Sestero (who was wearing a replica of Ryan Gosling's Drive jacket because, why not?), signing everything in sight and taking pictures with whoever asked for one. To their credit, they charged nothing for autographs or photos.
Before I could process what was happening, Wiseau was posing with me, instructing another random fan to take the shot with my phone, while simultaneously conversing with someone else, asking, “How do you say hahaha in French?”
The laugh is a strange affectation falling somewhere between an acknowledgement of irony and a stab at some form of genuine human emotion that seemed to elude him. It had punctuated a phone interview I previous conducted with Wiseau, which deteriorated into a half hour diatribe on his part. Based on that experience, I knew the Q&A that was about to start was going to be interesting.
I deferred from asking any new questions, as many others had pressing queries of their own. Early on, someone asked the most important question of all: What is The Room? Wiseau’s answer broke down the film’s lasting appeal in a typically abstract fashion.
“The Room is me, you, everyone. It’s a special place for everyone. That’s the idea behind it.”
Wiseau quickly went into overdrive, taking on even the most dickish questions with snappy answers, followed often by “OK. Move on. Next question.” It would have been rude coming from anyone else. From Wiseau, though, it was strangely charming.
The lengthy line of disaster art aficionados in Montreal's most depressing mall.
When the topic of the female lead’s cartoonish cruelty came up, Wiseau was ready with an answer he had seemingly given many times before.
“She is not mean,” he insisted. “She’s just manipulative, like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.”
Sestero, meanwhile, could barely get a word in edgewise, until he was asked about his book, which Wiseau said he supported “50 percent.” He laughed, of course, but it was hard to tell whether he actually felt jilted.
If Wiseau was hurt by the book’s contents, the damage was apparently not significant enough to stop him from making public appearances with Sestero, who had the unenviable task of subjecting himself to the director’s whims. As the story goes, the actor was even asked to shave his beard midway through The Room’s filming, only so that his character could be addressed as "Babyface"—Wiseau’s nickname for him on set.
While Wiseau has clearly come to terms with laughing at himself, it’s very much on his own positive terms. Sestero’s book and Franco’s upcoming film may change that.
“It might make The Room too commercial,” Vecera said. “That’s what I’m a bit scared of. Maybe it won’t be a cult movie anymore.”
The Q&A eventually wrapped up, but not before Wiseau bestowed upon two audience members some kind of necklace and a semi-religious blessing of good fortune. I had no idea what was going on. I’m not sure if anyone else did, either.
Finally, it was time for the film.
Watching The Room with a big, rowdy group of superfans was clearly the only way to do it. As has become tradition, hundreds of plastic spoons were launched through the air every time one of the inexplicably framed utensils could be seen in the background. Many had also committed the majority of the dialogue to memory and would liberally converse with the characters. One group of guys answered nearly every question posed by frustrated female characters with the answer: “BECAUSE YOU’RE A WOMAN!”
Wiseau and Sestero were long gone before the movie ended, on their way to Ottawa for the next screening. In their wake was a sea of broken plastic cutlery and blissful moviegoers.
When you exit from a run-of-the-mill flick at your local multiplex, you’ll likely find yourself part of a crowd divided over the merits of what was just seen. The Room, however, is entertainingly bad to the point of transcending such subjectivity.
Perhaps audience member Noah Weigensberg put it best: “Something about everyone getting together for the same thing that’s so obscure and frowned-upon by many others really gave me a sense of belonging.”
Event organizer Stevie Vecera says additional midnight screenings of The Room will occur at Dollar Cinema over the next couple of months and that Wiseau and Sestero will be back in the summer along with other surprise guests.
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