The Room

Tommy Wiseau attends screening at Cinema 21

The Room is a 2003 cult classic film written, produced and directed by Tommy Wiseau that follows a successful banker named Johnny (Wiseau) after his fiancé Lisa (Juliette Danielle) cheats on him with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Johnny spirals, and the film loosely follows that plot, with plenty of unrelated scenes including: Lisa’s mom casually revealing she has cancer (never brought up again), their friend’s debt from drugs (never brought up again) and Johnny’s friends playing football in tuxedos (never explained). 


Critics have unanimously discredited The Room for its poor direction, cinematography, acting, screenplay, production value and score. But it’s this sort of disastrous technique that led to the product known and loved today. The result of Wiseau’s first film is an incoherent, confusing and often blurry masterpiece. The Room is a film that has accidentally integrated itself into popular culture by having ironically great comedic timing, an interesting production backstory and a monthly theatrical showing for enthusiastic audiences.


The film is filled with non-sequitur events and leaves you laughing without knowing what’s going on. It’s comparable to Steve Martin, whose goal in comedy was to make people laugh without them understanding why. Perhaps it goes back to the origin of laughter: a primal display of superiority.


Wiseau is an unconfirmed last name, belonging to a man of unknown age and country of origin. Even those who worked closely with Wiseau were confused by him. Sestero talked about meeting and working with Wiseau in his book The Disaster Artist which played a large part in the film’s popularity boom—as well as James Franco’s 2017 film adaptation of the book. 


But the main cultivator of the success of The Room was a large billboard that remained over Highland Avenue in West Hollywood for five years, from 2003–2008, even though the film was only in theaters for two weeks. The billboard presented a ghastly photo of Wiseau, along with a phone number to RSVP a showing at the two locations that held the film. It was a sight almost too bombastic to ignore, which cost Wiseau much, much more than he made. 


In addition, to this day, no one knows how he made his fortune, which he spent lavishly. For The Room (which reportedly had a budget of over six million US dollars), Wiseau filmed the movie twice on two cameras that he had bought, even when the industry standard was to rent just one high-budget movie camera, due to their constant evolution and becoming quickly outdated. 


In a 2009 interview with Portland Mercury, Wiseau said he filmed the movie twice because the entirety of Hollywood was “confused.” Apparently, Wiseau was very difficult and unreasonable on set as well. He was constantly getting into nonsensical conflict with his cast and crew. At one point, he had an entire bathroom built for himself, one that no one else was allowed to use. All this juicy information—and moreabout Wiseau and the production of the film just created more fans, and kept old fans attentive.


The cult following, which has slowly accumulated popularity over the last 18 years, led to the film being shown the first weekend of every month at select theaters across the country. The audience is often made up of enthusiastic college students that love heckling a movie. Wiseau even tours around the country, taking pictures with fans, signing autographs and introducing the movie. One such screening was the weekend of Jan. 6, at Cinema 21 here in Portland that featured a live Q&A with Wiseau himself. Cinema 21 is one of many locations that Wiseau has frequently toured over the last decade, and his appearances are often met with sold-out late-night showings.


Rules have even been developed to watch the movie, much in the vein of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Say “meanwhile, in San Francisco” when yet another shot of San Francisco is shown, clap to the beat of sex scenes and yell “spoon” as you toss plastic spoons at the screen, anytime a spoon is shown. With entertaining monthly events like this for nearly 20 years, The Room has truly deserved its place within pop culture history. 


The Room is certainly one of the most beautifully disastrous movies ever made. It’s hilariously-timed drama and fascinating history has led to the cult following. Although this movie may have originally gained popularity to make fun of it, Wiseau’s flop has turned him into a one-of-a-kind pop culture icon.