If you’ve never seen the 2003 film The Room, I truly have no idea how to explain it to you.
I’ll try my very best.
I love Tennessee Williams. The melodrama, the psychology, the rich characters — his work is like dark chocolate.
Now imagine Tennessee Williams performed by a cast that is learning English by performing the play.
That’s the best I got.
Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic mastermind behind The Room (he’s credited as writer/producer/director/actor), has stated many times that he’s a fan of Tennessee Williams. He even made the tagline of his movie, “A film with the passion of Tennessee Williams.”
I’m really struggling with how to describe this movie. If you’ve never experienced it, you sort of owe it to yourself. It’s just something everybody has to try once. You have to ride a rollercoaster, you have to try the hottest hot sauce around, and you have to watch The Room.
The lore of this film is deep — it’s been floating around the cult cinema circuit for nearly two decades now. To truly understand the staying power of The Room requires research that could only be regurgitated here. Needless to say, there have been countless writings about the cultural influence the film has had. The inside scoop book The Disaster Artist, written by leading actor Greg Sestero, was even turned into a film starring and directed by James Franco.
The film has been a popular midnight movie for decades now.
And although I’ve seen the movie upwards of a dozen times, I had never truly experienced it. That is, with a crowd. It’s the perfect movie for hanging out at somebody’s house — the Saturdays Are For The Boys times, if you will. But it really hits a sweet spot as a midnight movie when you’ve waited all day for your first true experience of The Room.
I got that opportunity this past weekend thanks to the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC. We’ve been there before for a pre-pandemic Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast and it was so popular that we had to snag the last few tickets. I’ve been waiting for their midnight movies to return, worried that they never would. However, they’ve decided to make it happen in 2022: their calendar includes screenings of Rocky Horror, The Shining, Sweeney Todd, and of course, The Room — they do it every month alternating weekends with RHPS.
Keep in mind, I’ve seen this film many times. I know all the beats. I can quote-along the most famous lines (my favorite: In a few minutes, bitch!) and I know when the best moments are coming.
But it is an entirely new experience with a crowd.
The show began with a message from Tommy and Greg. E Street has been showing The Room for years and Tommy and Greg are known for showing up to screenings, planned or not. It looks like the folks at E Street convinced them to film a short little shoutout for the place, which was neat.
Then we, of course, got an ad for Tommy Wiseau’s underwear brand. You can get them on his website. Sometimes he signs them. Sometimes he doesn’t. He also sends out free face masks.
Then the picture started. And although I thought I knew my way around, turns out I was a total virgin.
If you’re like me and know the movie but don’t know the traditions, here are a few tips for screenings of The Room:
First, bring plastic spoons. I actually knew this one ahead of time. We came prepared, but many pros brought plenty of extras so everyone could have some. These spoons are thrown at the screen (and sometimes each other) any time a picture of a spoon appears on screen — which happens quite often. Don’t forget to yell “Spoon!” and collect those on the floor around you after the show for next time.
Bring a football. Toss the pigskin around with your buddies the All-American way: either underhand or without using the laces. Bonus points if you wear a tuxedo. I keep saying I’ll do these things next time and if someone double dog dares me then maybe I actually will. Our screening had plenty of space to do it.
There are plenty of callouts (Cancer! Oh, hi Mark!), but I got the biggest chuckle out of the call, “Water!”, anytime water appeared on the screen: the San Francisco Bay, the rain on the window-glass, or the many tears shed at the end of the movie. I didn’t know this going in, but I was a quick learner. (I can’t find anything about this call online — is it just a local tradition?)
All of these things brought to life by the drunken crowd around me really made for a fantastic experience. (They sell booze, the show is not BYOB — but the clicking of opening cans around me said otherwise). Our screening was full of plenty of pros who guided the newbies along with laughter and a shared love of stupid. Isn’t that how it should be?