Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre played host to a perplexing spectacle last Friday night: a storm of plastic spoons flew blindly in all directions above the seats of the darkened historic theater, shouts from the audience deafened the dialogue playing out onscreen and characters entering the frame were greeted with resounding demands to identify themselves and state their purpose. Such movie-going action seems more typical of hormonal, bored teenagers than seasoned cinephiles, but these chaotic scenes are the beloved hallmark of screenings of Tommy Wiseau’s modern midnight classic “The Room” (2003), which the Coolidge hosted on Friday along with a Q&A with Greg Sestero, the movie’s co-star and author of the film’s postmortem “The Disaster Artist” (2013), which was adapted into a highly successful film in its own right in 2017.
A self-financed, self-produced, self-starring, self-written and self-directed project by the mysteriously-originating Wiseau, “The Room” follows a fateful love triangle involving successful San Francisco banker Johnny (Wiseau), his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and his best friend Mark (Sestero). It likely would have faded into the dustbin of history following its short run in just two Los Angeles theaters in 2003 had it not been for the young director Michael Rousselet. As he sat in awe of what has been crowned “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies,” Rousselet began spreading the word about Wiseau’s wonderfully weird film to his friends, who began attending in droves.
Soon, the film began to take on a life of its own, earning its place along with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959) in the esteemed annals of beloved midnight B-movie fame. Fans now attend screenings in costume, line up outside cinemas armed with plastic spoons in homage to a peculiar set decoration, scream “Focus!” during the film’s many blurry shots and cheer the multiple tracking shots of the Golden Gate Bridge along to the end.
As the profile of “The Room” grew and gained a number of celebrity fans, the film’s cast and crew — including Wiseau himself — began appearing at screenings and laughing along with fans at the sheer incomprehensibility of the film and Wiseau’s oddly stomach-aimed lovemaking. At Friday’s screening, Sestero likened their experience and their resultant camaraderie to that of old brothers-and-sisters-in-arms.
“Everybody’s cool with it now,” Sestero said. “Being in ‘The Room’ is like going through Vietnam together.”
The trajectory of Sestero’s involvement in “The Room” snowballed beyond his own control, as he explained at the Q&A that he never intended to be in the film at all. Sestero was a struggling actor in Los Angeles when he met Wiseau, and he had originally only agreed to assist Wiseau in the film’s production.
“I read the script, said no, then told Tommy I’d help him make the movie,” Sestero recalled.
When Wiseau fired the original Mark during filming, however, Sestero found himself cast in a role that would become a part of Hollywood legend. He also noted that “The Disaster Artist” overestimated the level of faith he had in the film.
“Dave Franco played me a lot more optimistic than I was,” he said. “I absolutely did not want to be there.”
“The Room,” however, had other plans for Sestero, and he now proudly claims his role in a decidedly different chapter of Hollywood history than he intended. This unexpected transformation into cinematic legend was especially palpable in Sestero’s recollection of the filming of the movie’s infamous sex scenes.
“That scene is so awkward that I’ve never sat all the way through watching it,” he said. “There was no music [when we were filming]; Tommy just said, ‘Use your imagination.’”
Though his role in “The Room” turned out to be just about the furthest thing from his dream David Fincher or Billy Wilder role, Sestero enthusiastically shared his and Wiseau’s next project.
“[Wiseau] has this idea to do a shark attack movie,” Sestero explained to the audience. Indeed, a trailer for what promises to be a glorious Wiseau-vs.-shark showdown was released in February.
As is often the case with Wiseau, however, all is not what it seems. Sestero confessed that all they have is the trailer; they still need to make the rest of the movie.