The other night, my friend Megan and I went to a special screening of The Room, featuring an appearance by the star (and line producer) of the film, Greg Sestero. It was my third time seeing the film on the big screen, and Megan’s second. A couple weeks ago, after finding out about the event, I had bought Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist, which chronicles his friendship with Tommy Wiseau, the writer/director/star/producer of The Room, and the making of the film. I devoured the book in two days, gleefully relishing the behind the scenes stories of the nightmare that was the filming of The Room. More than that, I found Greg’s depiction of his friendship with Tommy to be touching, terrifying, and oddly beautiful.
And so it was with great excitement that Megan and I went to dinner and drank margaritas, because one should never watch The Room sober, and headed over to the coffeehouse/cinema where the event was taking place. We were surprised to find a line waiting for the doors to open, but we grabbed a spot and began to wait, and watch, and listen.
The first thing we noticed was that, while there were some ladies there, the line was mostly comprised of young, white, stereotypically geeky hipster boys (the kind who would show up on a Tumblr called “Hipster or Halloween Costume?”). There was a guy in a Utilikilt (Google it). At least one of the people in the group in front of us had never seen the movie before. “I don’t know shit about this movie,” he said. “I know it’s…somethin’.” And he wasn’t wrong.
For those of you who don’t know, The Room is basically the best worst movie of all time. It has rightfully been called the Citizen Kane of bad movies. The story revolves around Johnny, played by Tommy Wiseau, whose future wife Lisa is cheating on him with his best friend Mark (played by Greg Sestero). There are lots of other characters, some of whom appear once and are never heard from again; the plot, such as it is, goes all over the place, so there’s no point in trying to describe it. I’m not spoiling anything when I say the movie ends with Lisa, Mark, and Johnny’s beyond weird manchild friend Denny weeping over Johnny’s corpse. Due the the staggering ineptitude of the writing/directing/acting/everything, what was supposed to be a drama in the vein of a Tennessee Williams play instead became one of the most bizarre and hilarious films ever made.
One can’t truly explain The Room. One can only open oneself to the experience of The Room, the cult of The Room. I highly recommend it. Don’t watch it alone, though; watching The Room should be a group activity.
And that’s what I was excited about the other night: I figured I would be a with a group of like-minded superfans, people who got the joke and were ready to laugh at the bad filmmaking, the horrible acting, and the infantile view of women and relationships and the banking industry.
The other thing you need to know about The Room is that the lead female character, as written by Tommy Wiseau, is part femme-fatale, part sociopathic she-devil, and all nonsensical cartoon. Lisa, Johnny’s “future wife,” is not so much a character as a projection of Wiseau’s complete misunderstanding of women (as the multiple, excruciatingly long sex scenes reveal, his familiarity with the female anatomy is unclear at best). She cheats on Johnny because she’s bored but refuses to break up with him, then says that she still cares for him, then calls his best friend Mark over to fuck her on the spiral staircase (not making that up). When told that her mother “definitely has breast cancer,” Lisa doesn’t bat an eye. She then throws a birthday party for Johnny, during which she openly flirts with Mark, causing a “dramatic” fight between Johnny and Mark which leads to Johnny’s suicide. As they weep over Johnny’s body, Lisa cries and tells Mark they can finally be together. Mark, because he is a dumb cardboard soul who finally realizes he has been taken advantage of by this evil female, is horrified. That’s basically the theme of the movie: you can’t trust anyone, especially women.
One of the running gags for viewings of The Room is for the audience to shout “Because you’re a woman!” whenever any character says something sexist or condescending to or about any of the female characters. The sexist/condescending remarks are usually aimed at Lisa, who is told by her mother, her friend Michelle, and pretty much everyone else that she can’t support herself and that she needs Johnny to take care of her. (There is actually an essay that could be written about Lisa and her circumstances and what she’s been told her whole life about her lack of agency and how she needs a man; her mother mentions that she’s been married more than once, so maybe Lisa is only following her mother’s example because she doesn’t know any better? But I digress. [Because I’m a woman.]) The idea that anyone could think, let alone say say these things with a straight face in the 21st century is ludicrous, and the first time you see the movie, it’s breathtaking. In the past it’s been fun sit in a room with a bunch of people calling out the sexist attitudes that pervade the film; this time, it was different.
Before the movie started, Greg Sestero showed us a short documentary, kind of a trailer for his book, about the making of The Room. It included interviews with several members of the cast, including Juliette Danielle, the woman who played Lisa. As soon as she appeared on the screen, older, wiser, brunette instead of the garish platinum blonde from the film, some guy shouted at the screen: “Slut!” The second red flag went up.
Later, after several readings from the original script (worth it for Greg’s impression of Tommy Wiseau, which is perfect) and a brief intermission, the movie finally started. Very quickly, the experience became less about seeing the movie and playing along than listening to a bunch of assholes try to prove why they belong on a reboot of MST3K. It’s not that one really needs to pay attention to the movie, but I lost entire chunks of hilariously terrible dialogue as people shouted inane comments at the screen.
So yes, that was annoying. But what was disturbing were the shouts of “Because you’re a woman!” There are a few gimmes in the film, lines that are so blatantly sexist that everyone knows they’re supposed to respond. But this time, it was like a Rorschach test split along gender lines: there were things that guys in the audience responded to that the women didn’t, and viceversa. By the end, I was getting uncomfortable. It felt like I was surrounded by guys who were identifying with Johnny/Tommy and his antiquated view of women: Lisa, that crazy fucking bitch, how dare she treat Johnny so badly. Doesn’t she know how good she has it? Everything about Lisa is ridiculous, and the fact that Juliette Danielle was woefully miscast makes her the easiest of targets.The audience mocked Juliette Danielle for not being as beautiful as the script called for her to be; they groaned when she took her clothes off over and over again as if it was her choice. As if she wasn’t doing the best she could with the shitshow of a situation Tommy Wiseau had put her in. And I’ll admit, I mocked and groaned too, but then I started to feel gross. Laughing at Lisa is okay, as long as the laughter is actually aimed at the man who created her. The laughter around me felt…wrong.
After the movie ended, there was a Q&A session with Greg, who, I will say, was a great sport. I don’t remember most of the questions. One person asked if Tommy had read Greg’s book; he has twelve times. One of the last questions came from a very drunk white dude with dreads and a beard; he forgot his question and then asked something stupid, I don’t remember what.
And then another guy ran up and asked Greg how many boners he got while filming the sex scenes (to his credit, Greg quietly and politely said “zero” while people laughed). By that point, I was done. Then a woman who’d never seen the movie before that night asked, rather aggressively, what Greg wanted to do with his life, how old he was, what were his goals; Greg, once she let him get a word in, very humbly said that his book is being turned into a feature film (yay!) and that he feels like he’s coming out of this weird detour his life took. At the time, I thought the woman was being really rude, but I think now I see where she might have been coming from; if the first time I’d seen The Room was with this group of assholes, I’d be confused and a little pissed off, too. There was no joy in that coffeehouse, at least not for me. The love I have for the movie felt tarnished.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch The Room with a group of strangers ever again. And that makes me sad, because I first saw it with strangers. The friend I first saw it with was really just an acquaintance before the movie, but afterward, we were bonded for life. The communal experience was what made it special. I love sharing this movie with friends, and I think that’s the only way I’ll ever be able to watch it now: with friends who’ve seen it and love it the way I do and get the joke, or with people who are new to it but will appreciate it the way it should be appreciated. The Room is a bad film; the things that it tries to say about people and relationships and especially women are incredibly stupid and sexist and should not, in any way, be given any sort of credence. If there is any genius in the film, it is purely accidental and at cross-purposes to Tommy Wiseau’s original intent. Watching The Room can and should be an incredulous, joyful, sometimes gross, deeply silly experience; anything else, anything less, is unacceptable.
Robin is a freelance writer and a full-time theatre person. You may remember her from the comment sections of Gawker and Crasstalk. You can find her on Tumblr and Twitter under the alias robinathefirst.