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'The Room,' once a bomb, scores a direct hit

COLUMN ONE

The film that was panned when it came out in 2003 has become the latest cult sensation. 'It's fantastically bad,' one fan at a monthly midnight showing says.

October 30, 2009|Yvonne Villarreal

The so-bad-it's-good vibe creates a zany atmosphere inside the theaters as fans turn the spaces into a cinematic carnival. Streams of toilet paper float through the air. Some patrons come dressed as characters in the film, wearing blond wigs with black eyebrows (to match the on-screen appearance of Lisa, the woman at the center of the love triangle) or oversized tuxedoes.

During one lengthy amorous interlude, audience members yell "Intermission!" before filtering out of the theater to stretch or smoke.

Mostly, they comment, loudly. They shout "Focus!" during blurry scenes. They sing "Everywhere You Look," the theme song from the 1990s sitcom "Full House," when a shot of San Francisco houses reminiscent of the TV show's opening sequence appears on screen. They count -- "One! Two!" -- each time Mark is described as Johnny's best friend.

And they spout choice lines of dialogue:

"You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"

"Anyway, how's your sex life?"

"I did not hit her. I did nauuught."

And "Hi, doggie."

Then there are the plastic spoons. The disposable pieces of cutlery are a recurring visual in "The Room," appearing in framed artworks in the rooms where action unfolds. On cue, the audience chucks fistfuls of plastic spoons at the screen, creating a monsoon of synthetic flatware. By the end of the night, the debris is everywhere.

Wiseau, who cites Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Tennessee Williams as inspirations, is stingy with personal details beyond saying that he studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Laney College in Oakland and various acting studios.

In addition to "The Room," he co-directed an independent documentary, "Homeless in America" (2004). He says he is working on a sitcom pilot called "The Neighbors" and has a vampire film in the works.

Wiseau says every peculiar on-screen moment in "The Room" was intentional, and he professes not to be offended by the audience reaction, no matter how extreme.

"I like when people express themselves," the auteur said minutes before a stampede of fans was let inside a recent midnight screening. "It's connecting audiences, and people have fun with it. The more you see 'The Room,' the more you improve your life -- that's my philosophy.

"And I've said it before and I'll say it again: 'The Room' helps reduce crime in America because you spend time to watch it and think about the world -- how to be better. Yeah, some of the scenes may be quirky; some of the love scenes are too long. But fact is fact. You enjoy yourself and say, 'Wait a minute, can I be better?' "

Maybe fans simply like the spectacle.

"It's all about the experience," said Jason Cuadrado, who runs TheRoomFanSite.com. "You don't go to quietly see this movie. You really go because it is an event. It's an event to stand in line. It's an event to crowd into a theater and run around looking for seats. And it's an event to see people enjoy a film in ways you never thought people could enjoy a film."

"The Room" is available on DVD. Fans can also listen to sound bites at theroomsoundboard.com and use them as ring tones. A Facebook page dedicated to the movie has nearly 5,000 fans. On YouTube, video tributes and clips from screenings are bountiful.

Greg Sestero, who stars as Mark in the film, says he knew people would mock it. But he acknowledges he was surprised by its second life as a cult phenomenon.

"When I saw the film, I just knew people would laugh their heads off," Sestero said. "It's in its own world. A very, very weird world. . . . The fact that hundreds of people come out to see it now is not something one can expect or even explain."

Wiseau hopes the film will inspire a Broadway adaptation. For now, he'd like to have it shown at Staples Center, and he's using the fan site to spread the word. Users who sign up to be on the site's mailing list are asked to sign a petition to have the film shown at the L.A. venue.

"The fact is 'The Room' connects people," Wiseau said. "What better way to show that than having 20,000 people see it at the same time, same place? It would be a beautiful thing."

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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