Last Night: The Room, a New Cult Classic, Tears Apart St. Louis

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It has been frequently labeled "the Citizen Kane of bad movies." For midnight events, it might be the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the twenty-first century. It is a new cult classic, stupid and inept without bottom, sloppy as ballpark nachos and clueless as a farm turkey. It is called, quite simply, The Room.

Over the weekend, the Tivoli twice screened this phenomenon that has volcano'd in popularity since it was released, to tumbleweed silence, in 2003. Written, produced and directed by hombre-misterioso Tommy Wiseau, The Room reportedly cost $6 million (including marketing) to make, yet ignores or violates all known film conventions, as if the last 100 years of cinema did not happen.

Its first public screening in St. Louis attracted the very same guilty-pleasure aficionados, curious couples, hardcore cineastes, and rowdy groups of friends who have transformed it all over the country into that most precious of commodities: a must-see with a crowd.

The story is mundane melodrama: foreign Johnny (Wiseau), nympho dynamo Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and bearded himbo Mark (Greg Sestero) all live in the same building in San Francisco. Johnny and Lisa are engaged; Mark and Johnny are best friends; Lisa and Mark start sexing; Johnny discovers the betrayal. Other characters and plot lines come and go. There is soft-core sex, a birthday party and much throwing of pigskin.

That capsule synopsis does not, of course, come anywhere close to indicating how much of an elephantine clusterfuck The Room is. Which is precisely why people watch it.

"What's great about it is that there's nothing great about it," said moviegoer Dylan Shaffer, who had already seen it several times and was at the Tivoli this weekend. "It's so bad. It's indescribable, really. It's like nothing else that exists. It's just embarrassingly awful. I can't get enough."

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Tommy Wiseau in The Room.
Like most midnight movies, the screenings at the Tivoli were participatory affairs: certain lines or scenes elicited responses or shouts, shadow-acting, prop use or impromptu commentary. (There are a few excellent, but by no means exhaustive, primers and field guides kicking around.) For a movie without a solitary joke, there was never a moment without audience laughter. For his part, Wiseau laughs and talks like a glue-sniffing Count Chocula and acts like he's just returned from his most recent Lascaux cave painting. The Room isn't just periscope-depth bad, it's sublimely and hypnotically so; it isn't just clichéd, it's rudderless; it isn't just lugubrious, it's claustrophobic; it isn't just bonkers, it's surreal.

Jake Niehaus, a longtime fan, came both nights for the crowd. "In a room full of people, it's a different movie," he said. "Because it is so bad, and because Tommy tried so hard to make such a serious movie, and because it's executed so poorly, that's the charm."

Doubtless a lot of bad films have such charm, though. Some are canonical (The Manitou, Walk on the Wild Side, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Plan 9 From Outer Space), others are tweeners (Showgirls, Troll 2, After Last Season). What maybe separates The Room (and might shorten its shelf life) is how it at once feeds an American taste for casual misogyny, xenophobia, kitsch worship and the bonding power of football.

Not that any of this matters for a movie that rewards repeated viewings and is often so much fun. "The guy's either an idiot genius, or he's retarded," said first-timer Wolfgang Lehmkuhl, referring to Wiseau. "I felt like I walked into something that had been going on a long time. It was hilarious." He added, amused: "Somebody paid for that."

If you missed The Room this time around, not to worry. The Tivoli has scheduled midnight screenings for April 9-10 and May 14-15. Mark your calendars.

And make sure to bring plenty of plastic spoons.

The movie's trailer:


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