Tommy Can You See Me?

If you don’t know about the phenomenon of cinematic awfulness that is The Room, I’m not going to reiterate it here. Just go read the wiki article about the film and the madman behind it, Tommy Wiseau.

After watching it once, years ago, I thought I was done. I can’t say I ever climbed on board the ironic-cult bandwagon that surrounds what has become everyone’s favourite bad movie since Plan 9 from Outer Space. If anything, I was always a tad more intrigued by the backstory of After Last Season, a much worse movie on every level, but not as entertainingly bad as The Room. Whereas absolutely everything in After Last Season is wrong (every shot, every line, every prop – something is always so very off), the attraction of The Room is the wrongness Wiseau brings to the proceedings as writer, director, producer and star. Everyone else involved in the film is trying to make sense of it all (including a fair number of genuine industry professionals behind the scenes), but none of them can make any headway against the madness-tsunami that is Wiseau. He tears the whole six-million-dollar self-financed vanity project down around him, and there’s nothing anyone can do to prop it up. It’s fascinating to watch.

Eventually I ended up sitting through The Room a second time when Cindy, a friend since we both worked on Radio Active so very long ago, poked me (literally) for six months, asking, “When are we going to watch The Room?” She had been introduced to a highlight reel on YouTube and had become obsessed. My second screening did not disappoint, and I was enlightened as to the benefit of watching The Room with other people who could share in the laughter and horror.

I figured that was it. But recently, word spread that The Room personified was coming to town. The Dollar Cinema (long misnamed since admission is now $2.50 for regular screenings) was hosting a special event with Tommy Wiseau himself, and co-conspirator, co-star, co-producer Greg Sestero. How could we not go?

A trio of us took an afternoon excursion to the Decarie Square mall – one of those economically depressed shopping malls so dead, it would be perfectly safe to seek shelter there in a Dawn of the Dead scenario. Even the zombies would find better places to hang out during the apocalypse. I’d bought tickets online a few days earlier, and although we’d heard the show had sold out, we were unprepared for the epic crowd.

“This mall hasn’t had this many people in it since the ‘80s,” I declared. And I wasn’t joking. I think that was an accurate assessment. We were the better part of an hour early, and already the line of ticket holders was long. It would double by the time we were let in. There was even a lengthy line of people waiting for standby tickets. An entire second screening had been scheduled to meet demand, and it looked like it would be no less crazy.

An pre-movie opportunity to buy merchandise, meet Tommy and Greg, and get shit signed was offered and seized by Cindy and myself. Knowing there was a recent book about the production by Sestero, I took this moment to buy a copy. I’m halfway through The Disaster Artist now, and it’s kind of magnificent – certainly the best Hollywood-underbelly book I’ve read since Nightmare of Ecstasy. It’s a compelling story in the genre I like to call “Normal guy tries to be buddies with weird guy.” As such, the book is a modern day Of Mice and Men, with Tommy in the role of Lennie, excepting the fact that fewer puppies and pretty girls get accidentally strangled. Okay, maybe it’s just a modern day The Cable Guy. Either way, it’s rocketed to the top of my recommended reading list.

Film industry titans, Greg Sestero, myself and Tommy Wiseau. Photo by Lucinda Davis. NB: Greg is wearing a knockoff of the scorpion jacket worn by Ryan Gosling in Drive. Unless, of course, he defeated Gosling in a duel and skinned him alive.

Film industry titans, Greg Sestero, myself and Tommy Wiseau. Photo by Lucinda Davis. NB: Greg is wearing a knockoff of the scorpion jacket worn by Ryan Gosling in Drive. Unless, of course, he defeated Gosling in a duel and is wearing his skin as a trophy following his victory.

Intriguingly, Greg Sestero crossed out his own name before signing. Insanely, Tommy crossed out co-author Tom Bissell's name before signing.

Intriguingly, Greg Sestero crossed out his own name before signing. Insanely, Tommy crossed out co-author Tom Bissell’s name before signing.

Back outside and in line, we heard the crowd erupt into cheers and hoots. Tommy had decided to come out and bask in the love, running the length of the queue to deliver as many high-fives as he could to his adoring fans. Tommy doesn’t seem to smile much (unless you count those unnerving humourless chuckles from his bag of acting tricks), but there seemed to be genuine joy on his face in this moment. He looked like a big shaggy dog let off his leash in an open field after being cooped up in the house all week.

The Running of the Tommy.

The Running of the Tommy.

Cindy looks adoringly at her signed DVD. The ladies get an extra heart-and-arrow scribbling on their merchandise.

Cindy looks adoringly at her signed DVD. The ladies get an extra heart-and-arrow scribbling on their merchandise.

Pete models the sexiest piece of Wiseau memorabilia offered to fans. We can only hope each item was pre-worn by Tommy himself. I know I'd rather have his name on my underwear than that goddamn Hilfiger creep.

Pete models the sexiest piece of Wiseau memorabilia offered to fans. We can only hope each item was pre-worn by Tommy himself. I know I’d rather have his name on my underwear than that goddamn Hilfiger creep.

The Running of the Tommy Part II: The Rebound Lap.

The Running of the Tommy Part II: The Rebound Lap.

Inside the theatre, we were subjected to a surreal Q&A session with the featured star duo. I usually find screening Q&As tedious, filled with bad and awkward questions from the audience that really bring the mood down. In this case, nothing could bring the mood down. It didn’t matter what was asked of him, Tommy was quick with answers that came directly from an alien world in an alternate universe. He was multitasking bizarre queries, photo requests, and film-scene re-enactments in a way only someone completely uninhibited can. It’s astonishing how much you can accomplish when you don’t think about anything before you say or do it. Tommy just runs with it, whatever it may be. He may not arrive anywhere that makes the least bit of sense, but dammit, he’ll get there.

The Q&A. We sat near the very back because we didn't want to get pelted by plastic spoons the whole movie. It was a wise move.

The Q&A. We sat near the very back because we didn’t want to get pelted by plastic spoons the whole movie. It was a wise move.

Pete assumes the crash position, doubling over with laughter during Tommy's barking-mad responses. Cindy watches with awe, admiring a true thespian at work.

Pete assumes the crash position, doubling over with laughter during Tommy’s barking-mad responses. Cindy watches with awe, admiring a true thespian at work.

In the decade-plus since its release, The Room has very much arrived at a Rocky Horror level of cult. I knew about the spoons that would be thrown, the footballs, the people who would inevitably arrive dressed as their favourite character. But I didn’t expect the audience interplay with the film to be as solid as it was. There were some classic reply lines, sing-alongs and Mystery Science Theater 3000 moments. In this post-Oscar season, what’s to be said when the most entertaining picture I’ve seen lately is a piece of crap from 2003 I’d already watched twice before?

Of course, in the wake of this, Cindy wants to watch After Last Season, complete with its paper sets, paper MRI machine, and paper-thin acting. I don’t know if it can hope to match the magnificence of The Room should we gather an audience, but I expect we’ll find out soon enough. The poking has begun, and past experience has shown I can only bear that for six months max before my resolve crumbles.

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