The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

An Exercise In Endurance: Five Hours in 'The Room'

By Scott Lucas in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 5, 2013 4:00PM


My girlfriend and I arrive at The Music Box for a screening of The Room which is preceded by a Q and A with one of its stars, Greg Sestero. Greg has just written (along with Tom Bissell) The Disaster Artist, a book about the making of The Room, and the people gathered in the lobby of the theater are treating it as the literary event of the decade for two reasons: 1) It's super funny and smart and promises to be a future classic and 2) all of these people are obsessed with The Room and it's batshit-crazy auteur, Tommy Wiseau.

The Room has been called "the Citizen Kane of bad movies" and has built up a loyal cult following since its disastrous LA premier ten years ago. It was produced, written, and directed by the mysterious Wiseau, who also happens to play the lead, Tommy, a "happy go lucky" banker who finds out that his "future wife" Lisa is sleeping with his best friend Mark (played by Sestero). The film is hilariously bad and leaves you with your mouth open going "What?!?" And that's where The Disaster Artist comes in; Sestero is hoping to answer all those "whats?!?". And what "whats?!?" the book doesn't cover, he'll try to address tonight.

7:20 p.m. - Steve Prokopy from "Ain't It Cool News" and Music Box manager Dave Jennings take the stage to get the evening started. Dave comes off as equal parts loopy and excited for good reason—he has just been freed from the shackles of a Thanksgiving weekend full of screenings of sing-a-long Sound of Music. Apparently he has been fighting the urge to drop-kick screaming six-year-olds all weekend.

Greg Sestero
7:25 p.m. - Steve and Dave bring up Greg, who looks better now than he did in the movie. I hate him.

7:30 p.m. - Steve and Dave can't stop talking about how happy they are to be talking to Greg without all the megalomaniacal Tommy Wiseau interference that they're used to. Everyone does their best impersonation of him, Wiseau speaks in a comical broken-English, but Greg has him nailed. Years of practice, I'm guessing.

7:40 p.m. - Greg screens a short film about the making of The Room that doubles as an infomercial for the book. The highlight of the film is footage of Wiseau mangling Hamlet for a blue jeans commercial. The crowd can't get enough.

8 p.m. - Greg reads an excerpt from his book. It's a terrific bit about what's it like to go to a restaurant with Wiseau. The audience decides it wants Greg to make an audio book that utilizes his awesome Wiseau voice.

8:10 p.m. - Greg assembles volunteers from the audience for scene readings from the original script, which he assures us is "actually worse than the finished film" (he's right).

8:30 p.m. - The volunteer picked to read Wiseau's part is quickly becoming an instant star. He's got Wiseau's accent and speech patterns down cold and the audience loves it. Greg regards him with a mixture of respect and suspicion that seems to say, "Alright! What's this little bastard trying to pull? Doesn't he know what I had to go through to perfect this guy's accent? Okay, Wiseau Jr. Better look out. Ol' Greg's got his eye on YOU!"

8:35 p.m. - Steve, who is reading the stage direction, exasperatedly blurts out, "This is the most detailed stage direction I've ever seen!"

8:40 p.m. - The most famous line in The Room is when Wiseau channels James Dean and screams, "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" In the original script the line is, "You're taking me apart, Lisa!" When Wiseau Jr. reads this line, it brings the house down. Greg quietly fumes.

8:45 p.m. - Dave Jennings is looking like he's succumbing to Room fatigue when he jumps up during the reading of the climax and yells, "Stop! Is there anyone here who hasn't seen the film yet?" A smattering of hands go up (including my girlfriend's) and he orders them out of the auditorium to prevent any spoilage. When the newbies come back in after the reading is finished, Greg slips up and spoils the ending for them anyway, to which Dave says, "If you haven't already seen this movie then what the hell are you doing here???" I think Dave might be at war with himself.

8:55 p.m. - Greg retreats to the lobby for a book signing. It's about an hour before they're scheduled to screen the film, so we decide to make a quick trip to Liar's Club (don't ask).

10 p.m. - We return to The Music Box just in time for a Q and A with the audience, who seem to only want to ask questions about the film's many, many pointless sex scenes. Well, that and whether or not Wiseau is a vampire.

10:15 p.m. - Three girls and a guy—or a Walking Sitcom—sit down to our left and proceed to talk incessantly during the Q and A. Talking during a movie is one thing, but talking during a real, live person is quite another. I get annoyed and ask them to be quiet. One of the girls calls me a "dick." I want to respond with the female version of that epithet—and given the context, this seems perfectly logical—but I know that never goes over very well. 

10:30 p.m. - Fuck annoyed. I'm enraged. Once the movie starts, the chattering kicks into high gear. I don't even think these assholes are saying actual words. I think they're just making sibilant "ess" sounds to annoy me as an act of revenge for me shushing them. My head heats up with rage, but do I really wanna be that douche that complains about people talking during The Room? I know what they'd say anyway. "It's The Room, grandpa! Everybody talks!" Which is true. Sorta. In the spirit of Rocky Horror, people wait for onscreen cues to shout out lines that are actually funny and entertaining. But in between those cues, the audience is pretty respectful of the scripted action playing out in front of them. Don't want to miss any of those astounding line readings, after all. But what these half-wits to my left are doing is just…it's just...….Aw, Christ!! I think I'm getting a tumor!

10:32 p.m. - "Hi, babe!" Wiseau utters what are probably the funniest first two words in the history of cinema. The crowd goes wild. Wiseau recites his lines like a Transylvanian count who just got back from the dentist. It's as if he doesn't seem to fully understand the words that he, himself, has written. Needless to say, every time he opens his mouth is a delight.

10:33 p.m. - The weird little man-child, Denny, enters for the first time. He rarely stays for more than 30 seconds and never shuts the door behind him. Every time he enters, the audience will scream, "Oh, hi Denny!"

10:35 p.m. - The first of many extremely gratuitous and extremely uncomfortable sex scenes begins. Greg had described Wiseau's naked ass as some kind of weird dinosaur, or something. I still don't know what he means—but, yeah, I'm kind of grossed out.

10:40 p.m. - Spoons! For some reason, the apartment in The Room is full of tiny framed portraits of spoons. Every time the audience sees a spoon-photo, they throw plastic spoons into the air. The staff at the Music Box hates this practice. HATES it! 

10:47 p.m. - The second of many extremely gratuitous and extremely uncomfortable sex scenes begins. This time it involves Greg's character, Mark, but at least he refuses to take his pants off.

10:54 p.m. - Wiseau's character, Johnny, gets drunk on large tumblers full of scotch and vodka. Or "scotchka." Greg has told us that Wiseau doesn't drink, and this scene drives that home. Only someone who never drinks would think that a mixture this vile would be an acceptable libation. But all that drinking leads to……..

10:56 p.m. - You guessed it. Another goddamn sex scene!

11 p.m. - And another. This time it's a sex scene involving chocolate and a couple of characters that we haven't even met yet. The audience keeps yelling, "Who the fuck are you?"

11:03 p.m. - Out of the blue, creepy Denny gets into a rooftop altercation with some random drug dealer named Chris R. that we'll never hear from again. This scene contains one of The Room's widely ridiculed green screen scenes, but honestly, it doesn't look any less real to me than all those totally fake digital backdrops in the Oscar winning Life Of Pi. Maybe Wiseau was just going for a hyper-reality all along.

11:05 p.m. - The Chatty Cathys leave. What the hell? They paid $20 to annoy me for 35 minutes? Those sick twists! 

11:08 p.m. - "I did not hit her! It's bullshit! I did naht! Oh, hi Mark!" And so begins my favorite scene in the movie; Johnny and Mark having a rooftop conversation about women. "I just can't figure women out," says Mark. "Sometimes they're just too smart, sometimes they're just flat out stupid, other times they're just evil." Am I right, guys? Now I don't know, but I'm guessing the casual misogyny in this line sums up Wiseau's view of women. If it wasn't so damn stupid, it might be offensive. But no one in the audience seems to mind. Maybe I could've gotten away with that epithet, after all.

11:18 p.m. - The first of the film's many extremely gratuitous football tossing scenes begin. Every time this happens, a group of people in the theater start tossing a football back and forth right next to my head. I am sure that I will get beamed in the noggin because one of the girls throws and catches like, well, a girl. Casual misogyny rears its ugly head again. (And to be fair, I also throw and catch like a girl, but then I'm not the one throwing a fucking pig-skin around a dark and crowded theater.)

11:31 p.m. - Mark shows off his fresh new shave and the camera zooms in on his face as if it were a major clue in an Agatha Christie adaptation. This is followed by more football and head trauma fear.

11:33 p.m. - A puzzling scene in a coffee shop where no one seems to be paying for anything.

11:35 p.m. - How about another sex scene? The Lisa character promises us that it will be the last time. We can only hope.

11:38 p.m. - More sex? How about more football? Mark and Johnny frolic much more convincingly than Mark and Lisa and this underscores the real life relationship between Greg and Wiseau. When it comes down to it, that friendship is not only at the center of Greg's book, it's also at the center of this movie. 

11:45 p.m. - During the interminable birthday party scene (which seems to last as long as the wedding scene in The Godfather), I duck out of the auditorium to use the restroom. Greg is standing close by, talking on his cell. It looks like he's sticking around until the bitter end, but he appears to have no interest in watching himself ruin Johnny's birthday, yet again. He politely nods to me and I consider saying 'hello'—but my hair is a mess and I haven't shaved in two weeks. I think standing next to him would be ill advised.

11:55 p.m. - "Wake up! What planet are you on?" Exactly. 

12:04 a.m. - Johnny meets his bitter end. It's at this point that I realize which filmmaker Wiseau reminds me of the most; it isn't Ed Wood, it's nearly forgotten Czech actor/filmmaker Hugo Haas. During the '50s, Haas churned out fiercely independent, self-financed films with lurid subject matter and equally lurid titles (Thy Neighbor's Wife, The Other Woman). And like Wiseau, Haas wrote, produced, directed, and starred in his films with the thickest of accents and the cheesiest of production values. But more importantly, they're idiosyncratic filmmakers who refused to wait around for their big break. Maybe that sounds a little too charitable to both men, but the fact remains—they got shit done their way and if you want to know their thoughts on this world, just take a look at their films.

12:08 a.m. - Almost before the credits roll, The Music Box crew is grudgingly picking all those plastic spoons up off of the floor. If I were a better man, I might help them. But I am naht!

12:10 a.m. - We exit the theater and I finally work up the nerve to meet Greg, who is predictably nice and gracious. He's very excited about a positive review for his book that James Franco has just written for Vice. I'm not surprised that Franco liked it. Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau are the kind of Hollywood outsiders that Franco would probably like to be—if only he hadn't become really rich and famous first. And The Room is the kind of post-modern prank that he would so desperately like to pull on all us regular folk. But he can't because The Room isn't a prank, and as Sestero's book will tell you, you just cannot make this shit up.