The Room: a guide to the best worst movie ever

The Room. “Midnight sensation.”  “The best worst movie of all times.” “It’s so terrible that it’s great.” Oh, there is so much to be said about this movie. It has lived up to my every expectation. It is a must-see for movie fans and just cinematography-curious individuals.

Here is The Room‘s trailer that vaguely hints at the movie’s terrible brilliancy:

The Room was released in 2003 by Tommy Wiseau – yes, he is the disturbing-looking guy at the posters – who wrote, produced, directed and starred in the movie. Weird-looking, weird-behaving, of unknown origins (he has a European-sounding accent, but he never says where he is from), Tommy Wiseau played a huge part in The Room‘s “success”. The movie cost several million dollars to produce (much of that money was allegedly spent on huge posters placed in very visible spots across Los Angeles), and it failed miserably during its theater run. The reason? The Room, a relationship drama about love, trust, and betrayal, just plain sucks. There are so many reasons why it sucks, but it does so in a such an unintentionally hilarious way that people kept coming back to see it again with friends, which is how it gradually became the “midnight sensation” it is now.

The plot of The Room is simple: Johnny (Wiseau) is a near-perfect man who lives in San Francisco and is madly in love with his fiance Lisa (Juliette Danielle, who has the appearance of a retired porno actress). Lisa, obviously the Bitch of the movie, becomes suddenly dissatisfied and bored with Johnny, and starts sleeping with Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero, who has the appearance of a Hollywood playboy). The drama unfolds after Johnny starts to suspect something, while Lisa is not even trying to hide her affair anymore. Other characters that appear the most include Lisa’s mother and Johnny’s protege and neighbor Danny.

Full The Room experience consists of two parts: one is the movie itself, and the other is the experience of watching it in the movie theater – usually select Landmark theaters, one weekend every month, at midnight. I have done the latter twice, and now I need to complete the former to fully appreciate all the lines.

As I was saying, the movie itself sucks on so many levels. The writing is terrible, and the acting is horrible. Tommy Wiseau likes to say that he spent many years of his life creating The Room. Well, those years definitely did not translate into the quality of production. Poorly made (it obviously had to be shot in a short period of time), the movie goes in and out of focus, shows characters from strange unflattering angles, uses super-close close-ups at hardly appropriate times, and even “recycles” frames from one scene for use in another (funnily enough, those scenes happen to be sex scenes, which are a disaster in themselves). There are random characters we know nothing about, sub-plot lines that are introduced and immediately dropped, out-of-context dialogues, inexplicable behavior on part of every character, and more.

It is difficult to put your finger on the exact qualities that make The Room hilarious. The best way I can explain it is that The Room is funny because of discrepancies that are all over the movie: dialogues that do not match context, characters’ responses that do not correspond with their interlocutors’ lines. Some things are pointed out over and over again, while others are never explained. There are countless contradictions. All of this makes The Room charmingly funny.

And, of course, the best thing about The Room is that it was genuinely meant to be a bona fide romantic drama, visibly based on a very intimate emotional trauma experienced by Tommy Wiseau. (As one of the articles said, the main questions of The Room is, Who is the bitch that broke poor Tommy’s heart?)  After The Room became the “midnight sensation”, Tommy started marketing it as a “dark comedy”, thus implying that the movie’s humor is intentional. However, I, for one, refuse to buy it. Obviously Tommy’s acting is real, or at least he thought he portrayed real emotional pain. It just so happens that The Room was so poorly made that it became a cult cultural phenomenon instead of disappearing among thousands of faceless decently made romantic comedies.

The second part of a true The Room experience is watching, or rather experiencing it in a movie theater with the audience. The Room creates a unique atmosphere of unity among the viewers as they come together to mock the unprecedentedly bad movie. There are certain rituals and procedures that the audience usually follows, which include yelling at the screen, object-throwing, and more. It is truly a unique “happening” worth experiencing. (However, don’t expect to hear all the lines in the noise created by the yelling and the throwing. This is why you need to watch The Room quietly at home at least once to fully embrace it.)

Here are some of the things people yell at the screen:

  • “Spoon!” – Nearly every piece of art in Johnny and Lisa’s house features spoons, so it is customary for the audience to bring plastic spoons to the screenings and to throw them at the screen while yelling “Spoon!!!”, every time a picture featuring spoons appears onscreen. Spoons thrown by people in far rows land on laps of people in near rows, who then throw them at the screen again. Spoons are also thrown at random moments during the movie, so they can fly pretty much non-stop, which is probably the most distinct feature of in-theater The Room experience.
  • “Symbolism!” – While many things in The Room are absolutely random, some appear to have deep meaning, symbolizing something Tommy wants us to know. For example, at the beginning of the movie, Danny appears when Johnny and Lisa are heading upstairs to the bedroom, and, as he watches them leave, he loudly takes a bite from an apple. Apparently, this is supposed to symbolize his temptation and his prohibited desire to have Lisa. However, it is presented in the movie in such an incoherent way that it is appropriate to yell “Symbolism!”  Later in the movie, Johnny and Mark go for a random walk/run in a park and throw a ball to each other; apparently, the ball is supposed to symbolize Lisa, and the whole ball-throwing game – their competition for her, so it is again appropriate to yell “Symbolism!”
  • “Cancer!” – Early on in the movie, Lisa’s mother announces that she has breast cancer, which is never mentioned again. To make up for this unfortunate omission, every time Lisa’s mother touches Lisa’s nose  (which happens every time they see each other), the audience yells “Cancer!” or “I give my cancer to you!”
  • “One! Two! Three!” – The audience counts how many times different characters mention that Johnny and Mark are best friends. Tommy obviously wanted us to really remember it.
  • “Who the fuck are you?” – While Johnny and Lisa are out, two random people come in their living room and start having sex. (This is apparently supposed to be a comic relief in what Tommy must have thought was an overly dramatic movie.) The two will later turn out to be Johnny and Lisa’s friends. However, since at the point when they first appear we have no idea who they are, it is fun to yell, “Who the fuck are you?!”  This is also an appropriate reaction when, during Johnny’s surprise party, a random guy starts giving Lisa personal advice. The guy is either supposed to be Peter the Psychologist, in which case this reaction is appropriate because it is clearly a different actor who looks nothing like Peter from earlier in the movie; or he is literally a random guy, in which case the aforementioned reaction is even more in place.
  • “Focus! Unfocus!” – When the movie goes out of focus, the audience yells “Focus!”  However, during the protracted sex scenes, viewers often yell “Unfocus!” as if begging for mercy. It is also appropriate to yell “Unfocus!” during the scene of Lisa’s conversation with her friend, when Lisa’s neck appears to have a tumor or some kind of substance inside her skin that moves every time she opens her mouth.
  • “Go, go, go, go!” – Even though The Room never leaves San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is often shown in the movie as it is often done in normal movies that are set in several different cities. The audience chants “Go, go, go, go!” rooting for the cars on the bridge and wishing them luck in getting to their destination.
  • “Because you’re a woman!” – Lisa’s mother keeps planting casually misogynistic anti-feminist ideas in Lisa’s head, arguing that Lisa needs to stay with Johnny because he can “provide for her” while she cannot “support herself”. At the end of such sentences, the audience yells “Because you’re a woman!”, explicitly stating what Lisa’s mother appears to imply.
  • “…In bed!” – Possibly my favorite in terms of creative yelling. When Lisa talks to her friend before Johnny’s surprise party about Johnny not being enough for her, the audience adds “…in bed!” to each sentence, creating a sexually suggestive  dialogue in place of boring meaningless chitchat.
  • Various one-time yells to point out plentiful smaller inconsistencies of the movie.

All in all, here are some of my favorite The Room moments and quotes:

  • When Lisa seduces Mark, he says, expressing his amazement at such an unexpected turn of events: “Candles… Music… Sexy dress…”, while there are no candles in sight and no music to be heard. To underscore this unfortunate failure, the audience likes to yell, “What candles?!. What music?!. What sexy dress?!.” as Mark diligently says his lines.
  • In one of my favorite dialogues of the movie, Mark tells Johnny the following story: “I used to know a girl, she had a dozen guys. One of them found out about it… beat her up so bad she ended up at a hospital on Guerrero Street”. Johnny: “Ha ha ha. What a story, Mark!”  There are many things wrong with this one short scene. First, as everything else in The Room, this dialogue is totally unrelated to everything else before and after it. Second, it does not seem like a good idea for Mark, who is sleeping with Johnny’s fiance, to bring up stories abut sexual promiscuity in front of Johnny. Third and my favorite, Johnny’s joyful reaction to this sad story beautifully underscores why The Room is so hilarious. Finally – I have not actually checked it, but people say that, while there is a Guerrero Street in San Francisco, there is no hospital on it.
  • When Danny is being threatened by a drug dealer to whom he apparently owes money, Johnny shows up on Danny’s balcony to rescue him. The purpose of Johnny’s appearance is clear: it is to once again demonstrate what a flawless, caring man Johnny is. However, then Mark appears for no particular reason; then, completely overdoing it, come Lisa and her mother. I also love that Lisa is shaking Danny during his confession about drugs and money, yelling, “What kind of drugs?! What kind of drugs?! What kind of money?!”, as if expecting an actual answer. Needless to say, none of this drug-and-money storyline is ever mentioned again.
  • Possibly my favorite quote because it captures the essence of The Room: in the middle of a conversation about Mark’s career, Johnny suddenly asks, “Anyway, how’s your sex life?”  Mark does not appear to be surprised by the unexpected question, but yet he never answers it.
  • The guys dress in tuxedos for no reason whatsoever, and then engage in a spontaneous ball play while wearing tuxedos. The purpose of tuxedos, or the sudden need to throw ball in such fancy outfits, is never explained.
  • “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!!!” – yelled by Johnny with great feeling, this line, knowingly or not, references a much earlier film, Rebel Without a Cause, and the teenage rebellion of the James Dean’s character.

…To be continued when I watch The Room on DVD!

The bottom line is, you need to see The Room in order to understand what it’s about. And, as a blog equivalent of dessert, here is The Room Soundboard, where you can listen to the famous soundbites. It’s so terrible that it’s great.

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About Allantoin

A Fierce Russian's Perspective is a blog about the world as seen by a Russian immigrant (yours truly).
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