Tickets were sold out weeks in advance. Costumed fans lined up outside the Music Box Theater in the February cold, armed with cameras and red roses to greet the film’s stars. Employees at the local CVS wearily directed moviegoers eager to stockpile the requisite props. Was Rocky Horror enjoying an out-of-season revival? No, it’s The Room, and it’s becoming the best worst movie of our time.
Filmed in 2003 for a reported $6 million, The Room tells the melodramatic story of a love triangle between a man, his “future wife” Lisa, and his best friend Mark. The plot (and the dialogue) border on incomprehensible, due in large part to the performance of its writer, director, and leading man, Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau’s dubbed-over dialogue, runaway plot twists, and inexplicable penchant for awkward staging (characters chat while squatting in a corner, enjoy romantic interludes on spiral staircases, and, at one point, play a pickup game of football while dressed in tuxedoes) made the film a prime target for mockery, and it quickly developed a cult following after its independent premiere in Los Angeles.
Midnight showings have since popped up around the country with costumes, improvised dialogue, and accessories becoming de rigueur. Each sighting of a framed photo of a spoon, for example, is accompanied by a shower of plastic cutlery and an enthusiastic cry of “SPOON!”
If The Room is the “Citizen Kane of bad movies,” then Wiseau is its Orson Welles. Wiseau’s origins, like his accent, are vaguely foreign and mysterious at best. His on-screen persona carries over to real life. Like his character, Johnny, Wiseau favors dark suits, sunglasses, and a stringy mass of black hair. Having rebranded the movie as a “black comedy” to embrace its cult-icon status, he now travels around the country to showings of the movie to meet fans, attempt to answer questions, and, most importantly, sell DVDs, T-shirts, and bobblehead dolls.
Wiseau’s two-night engagement in Chicago is part of his current nationwide tour. His appearance on stage at the Music Box on Friday night was met with a standing ovation, and he wasted no time in launching into a series of bows and a rambling string of thank-you’s. He doggedly refused to give a straight answer when the first fan to the microphone ventured the famous question of Wiseau’s nationality. “Next question!” was the only response, punctuated with a chuckle. Asked for his opinion on the current situation in Egypt, Wiseau advised that “all Egyptians watch The Room a hundred times,” before stirring the crowd into a round of “USA! USA!” A fan celebrating his birthday was brought onstage only to have Wiseau flip him over in a somersault and serenade him.
Also in attendance was Greg Sestero, the film’s line-producer-cum-supporting-actor (he plays Mark, the main character’s best friend) and a one-time male model. Unlike Wiseau, who embraces his fans and his own weirdness alike, Sestero seemed a bit uneasy onstage, giving short answers to questions and keeping a good distance from the cartoon-like antics of his co-star. However, he and Wiseau agreed that neither is interested in doing adult film, and revealed that he would be releasing a tell-all book in the fall about his experience making The Room.
Both Wiseau and Sestero stayed after the film and Q&A for an extensive meet-and-greet with the audience. With a line that stretched almost to the back of the theater, they signed autographs, posed for pictures, and recorded endless variations of the film’s famous line “you are tearing me apart, Lisa!” for over an hour. Irony seemed to be cast aside as a tuxedo-clad foursome took turns pounding fists with Wiseau and groups of women giggled nervously at Sestero’s side. The movie may be objectively terrible, but the fans’ enjoyment is genuine, and Wiseau is happy to oblige. As the moderator noted onstage, “There is no one in the industry who is better to his fans than Tommy Wiseau.”