Two weeks ago, I saw The Room, the “best bad movie of all time,” in theaters, and it was the second-most memorable movie theater experience of my life, next to seeing The Dark Knight on opening night. The latter was like attending a rock concert, with the anticipation so high.
Seeing The Room, not so much.
But it was undeniably fun. The theater was filled with nerds who’d obviously watched the film at least a dozen times. They knew every beat, and would crack jokes (loudly) at the screen during the movie’s many, many absurd moments.
The call-and-response tradition is what makes seeing The Room such an enjoyable theater experience, and largely why the film has achieved cult status among cinephiles, and geeks of all stripes. I could never in good conscience recommend you watch The Room alone at home, but in the theater, with people yelling “Who are you?!” every time a random character appears on screen with no introduction, The Room is delightful.
But long before Johnny-come-latelies like me and James Franco, whose film The Disaster Artist is of course about the making of The Room, discovered the film, there were the old school Room fans — the ones throwing spoons at the screen, chanting “Go! Go! Go!” during the film’s absurdly long panning shots and more or less creating the mythology that’s helped the film achieve its special place in the culture.
In honor of The Room’s recent resurgence in the culture, I interviewed several diehard fans about how they discovered the underground “hit” and why they’re so fond of it. Here’s what they had to say…
David Boiano, 30, Denver
Discovered The Room: 2006
Number of Viewings: 31 (but only once from beginning to end)
I discovered The Room by chance online. Facebook was just getting popular, and someone shared a YouTube link to the movie. The description said it was the “worst movie of all time.” I had zero context other than that.
I started watching the film, and had no idea what to make of it. But I stuck with it because there was some nudity.
I’m looking at Tommy [Wiseau] and thinking, Who the hell is this guy? Without Tommy, The Room is just a bad movie. But with him, it takes on a new dimension. You don’t know what you’re watching. Is this a goth thing? Am I watching Interview With a Vampire, Part 3?
I only watched a few scenes, but the movie sat in the back of my brain, and it never left my head. So for years, I’d go back and rewatch other scenes, trying to make sense of it. But I never had anyone to discuss it with, because it was such an underground hit. I would show The Room to other people, and they wouldn’t get it. I’d say, “Oh, hai, Mark!” and they’d have no idea what I was saying. Then I’d try to explain the reference, and they’d look at me like I had two heads.
Other times, I’d have trouble finding the movie at all. The movie wasn’t on Netflix or iTunes, and it was always getting taken down from YouTube. And unless you were in Los Angeles at the time, it was hard to find a live screening, and I was all the way in Connecticut. You could either buy it from Amazon or from Tommy’s site — that’s it.
It wasn’t until the Disaster Artist book came out in 2013 that I found other people to discuss The Room with. The book put a whole new spin on the movie. I’d been trying to get to the mythology of the movie, but there was only so much information. You have this movie that’s absurd and defies explanation, and then you get an instruction manual explaining all the absurdity. Yet you come away from the book with even more questions. That’s just how mysterious Tommy is.
It took me years of talking about it, but I finally got my wife to find it funny. Same thing with one of my friends. The Room is like a seed you plant and let grow. No one gets it right away.
I eventually bought a DVD of it from Tommy’s website — it came with a signed headshot of Tommy — but I refused to watch it. I wanted my first time watching the film start-to-finish to be in a theater. And it paid off. I finally saw the film in theaters for the first time this January. There were people throwing Nerf footballs in the aisles, throwing spoons at the screen.
That’s the proper way to see The Room— in a theater of people yelling.
Allison Thompson, 22, College Park, MD
Discovered The Room: 2011, when she was a junior in high school
Number of Viewings: 10 (twice in theaters)
I discovered a meme of Tommy’s infamous line, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”
And I was like, What is this referencing? I found out it was from the worst movie ever, and had to watch.
I found a sketchy link, and illegally streamed The Room at school during study hall. I had my headphones in at the library, trying to muffle my laughter: The breast cancer storyline that goes nowhere; the random characters who appear on screen but are never introduced; the dialogue such as “Keep your stupid comments in your pocket!” How can anyone really think of all this stuff?
I told a few high school friends about The Room, but it wasn’t until college that I met people who “got it.” That reignited my appreciation for the movie — discovering fans of the movie. It just made my friendships even better knowing we have this thing in common — this mutual appreciation and love for something that’s widely regarded as awful. One of my friends and I even started a radio show about movies at our college radio station, and we talked about The Room a lot.
In early 2017, I went to my first live screening of the film. I kind of knew about the callbacks, the yelling at the screen, the throwing of the spoons, but it was still amazing to witness in person. Just being in a space where you have something in common with everyone, and you’re all laughing and enjoying this thing together… it was everything I had imagined and hoped it would be.
Joey O’Donnell, 22, Taylor, MI
Discovered The Room: 2010
Number of Viewings: 20 to 30
My older brother introduced me to The Room. He was watching a review of the film by a YouTuber called The Nostalgia Critic. His interest was piqued, so he got the DVD.
There’s no way this movie can be that bad, I thought.
Then I saw it.
We were laughing our asses off watching it. Realizing that this was a serious movie about a love triangle, with actors who took their roles seriously, was hilarious.
I turned other people onto the film over years. I’d show it to my friends, and we’d start quoting the lines to each other. It’s like being in on this cool secret together — especially before The Disaster Artist, because the film wasn’t known to the mainstream until then. It was like being part of one large inside joke. Even today, my buddies and I will grab some beers and throw on The Room and just hang out and laugh.
Alex Kirr, 19, Champaign, Illinois
First discovered The Room: 2016 (senior year of high school)
Number of Viewings: 10
One of my friends came up to me and made a joke about The Room. I didn’t understand. So he started describing the movie to me, and showed me one scene of Tommy Wiseau talking. I was like, I need to see this right now.
I started driving around my hometown looking for some place that might sell it. Disc Replay. Target. Best Buy. Family Video. Some other DVD rental stores. None of them had it. I ended up ordering it off Tommy’s website. It took three weeks to get to me, but it did come with a signed copy of his headshot.
Some of my friends were upset when the movie was over. “Why did we just watch that?” they asked. “But we were all laughing!” I responded. I was undeterred. I wanted to watch it again, and show it to as many people as possible.
The more you see it, the more you realize that The Room is just a dude, Tommy, trying to realize his dream. It didn’t come out right, but that’s also the beauty of “bad” movies: They’re more human. A bad movie is just people trying to genuinely express themselves, not a studio pumping millions of dollars into a movie.
Gabriel Pancia, 20, São Paulo, Brazil (currently Minneapolis)
First discovered The Room: March 2017
Number of Viewings: 10 (twice in theaters)
I was back in Brazil for summer break, and I discovered a YouTube clip discussing The Room. Immediately I thought, I have to see this.
It was unbelievable how awkward it was. It was like watching aliens try to make a movie.
Still, I wanted to watch it again, and I wanted to watch it with other people. It’s a very social movie. You don’t watch that movie to watch the movie; you watch the movie to be part of the experience surrounding it, which is to get together with people and laugh.
I was never so much interested in the mythology around the film. I know a lot of The Room fans are fascinated by Tommy and his background, but that never did much for me. I was always just interested in the movie for the movie.
I watched the movie a lot this past year, and in September, I saw it for the first time in Minneapolis (where I go to college). A screening is its own environment, with its own jokes and language. There are a lot of gags you can’t encounter outside of a live screening. Like when Johnny and Mark are throwing the football around in the park in San Francisco, people start singing the Rocky theme, for example.
It’s cool to be there with other people who are in on the joke. I felt very welcome. I just kept thinking, This is a nice place, with nice people.