A giggling girl in a blue dress waves her friends over. They laugh as she pulls an oval-shaped disposable tin tray out of her tote bag. One friend assists as she affixes the tray to her head and her costume comes together: she’s a silver spoon.
It’s a half an hour before the midnight screening of The Room at the Royal Cinema and the line-up is already snaking around the block. A tall man stumbles by, drunk and shouting to anyone who will listen, “You gotta get yer tickets before you line up!” One guy yells back: “We got our tickets weeks ago!”
Inside the theatre a crowd, predominately male and college-age, congregates around a tall man with long, stringy black hair, black sunglasses, and a lime green shirt. Tommy Wiseau is in his element, hamming it up with his fans alongside his more subdued colleague, Greg Sestero, co-star of Wiseau’s deliciously appalling movie, The Room .
At this point we can no longer call The Room a cult sensation. Its reach has extended to rep cinemas across North America, where audiences have created Rocky Horror -like rituals around the film’s many and well-documented gaffes. Subplots are introduced and then abandoned; an actor will be holding an object in one shot, only to have it inexplicably disappear seconds later; dialogue contradicts what’s actually happening in a scene. Other details make little sense, such as the framed pictures of spoons that decorate the lead character’s apartment. (Every time one of these appears onscreen, audience members throw plastic spoons with wild abandon.) In short, The Room tries to hit every note a movie can hit. Toss in shoddy editing and mind-numbingly bad acting and you’ve got a recipe for ironic success.
It’s no surprise that people have embraced The Room , especially in public screenings; a live cinema replacement of The Rocky Horror Picture Show has long been overdue. But Wiseau refuses to publicly acknowledge the failure of his movie to make any kind of sense to viewers. At the same time, he is aware of what critics and bloggers have said about the film, and he stubbornly denies even the most obvious blunders in continuity and editing.
In interviews, Wiseau recycles the same familiar lines. When I meet with him in the Sheraton Hotel’s Club Lounge, he’s clearly playing the part of the hot-shot director. He wears a black vest, black pants, and a blood-red tie. His eyes dart back and forth under dark sunglasses that never come off. Any question can lead without warning to one of his signature lines: “You can enjoy yourself, you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself but please don’t hurt each other,” he instructs. Follow-up questions seem to test his patience.
Sestero, who met Wiseau 13 years ago in an acting class, mostly hangs back and lets his friend do his bit. Dressed in a tight grey muscle shirt and basketball shorts, he appears to be riding the wave of The Room with pleasure. Of course, Sestero maintains he was in on the joke the whole time. “I’d watch the dailies and was just bewildered by how different and funny it was, and I showed it to my parents and my family as it came out and they were glued to it,” he says. “So I’m surprised by the international appeal it’s garnered but I’m not surprised that people are laughing at it.”
Sestero is right: people are laughing at The Room , not with it. So it would seem a little strange that Wiseau is treating his success as that of any director who makes a quirky indie film that slowly picks up steam over the years. On Saturday night at The Royal, he is the unequivocal hero. He mounts the stage to a standing ovation and chants of, “Tommy! Tommy!” He invites everyone who came in costume up onstage. This includes a man in a long black wig, a few guys in tuxedos, and a handful of girls in red dresses. (In the movie’s opening scene, Wiseau’s character, Johnny, gives his fiancÃ©e a red dress.) Throughout the Q&A, he stops to rearrange his entourage in a more suitable order. He barely answers one question before he gets bored and moves on to the next. When someone asks about the character Denny, an orphaned teenager “adopted” by Johnny, Wiseau replies, “Denny is retarded, number one. And he is 16, 18, and he does all the drugs. Move on, next question.”
The Q&A ends and the movie plays to roaring cheers. Spoons soar through the air like confetti. The event is a success, but Wiseau’s appearance has done nothing to dispel the enigma surrounding his movie and himself. The more he speaks about the film, the hazier the story becomes. He’s certainly settled into his role comfortably, courting the press and touring his film around North America. Yet he refuses to talk about his age or background; he’ll only say that he is from Europe and has lived in France. The image of Wiseau that emerges is not that of a powerful mastermind but a symbolic orphan, more Denny than Johnny.
Or not. We don’t really know what Wiseau thinks of his film’s massive following. By his own metaphor, Tommy Wiseau is the driver of the vehicle that is The Room , but the gears quickly shifted on the narrative of the film, and certainly not by Wiseau’s hand. He didn’t ask for the cult treatment, and we can’t forget that in our frenzy to get to the heart of the mystery of the film. And that means getting to the heart of Tommy Wiseau himself. So good luck with that.
The Room has found a new monthly screening home at Carlton Cinema, starting March 14, 2014. They’re welcoming Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero for Q&As post-screening all weekend. Check their website for details and showtimes.
Featured photo by Lexi Lutter.