the room 4

The Room is many things. An endless well of internet memes. An absolute trainwreck of a film. But it’s also the most successful midnight movie of the modern era, the heir apparent to Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Since The Room debuted in 2003, it’s developed an intense fan following on the midnight movie circuit. There are dozens of callbacks and hundreds of spoons. Director/writer/star Tommy Wiseau makes frequent appearances at screenings. So does his co-star, Greg Sestero, who co-wrote the behind-the-scenes book, The Disaster Artist, that’s now a movie of its own.

But how exactly did The Room achieve this unique cult status? I spoke to managers and events directors at movie theaters across the country to piece together its rise. They shared stories of elaborate costumes, questionable callbacks, and the work that goes into hosting the most boisterous movie screening in town.

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the room screenings

A lot of people can’t understand why someone would want to watch a bad movie – even one that’s “so bad, it’s good.” Yet many bad movies find a completely intentional audience, several years after the fact.

Take Ed Wood. The filmmaker died obscure and broke in 1978. Now he’s a famous cult figure with an award-winning biopic to his name, whose movies are screened all over the world. The same thing is happening right now to Tommy Wiseau, the strange (French? Polish? Extraterrestrial?) director behind The Room. This film was laughed off the screen when it opened in 2003. But it’s since become a beloved midnight movie that inspired a hilarious tell-all book and now, a behind-the-scenes film with serious Oscar potential: The Disaster Artist.

Whether we’re talking about Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Room, or some other amazingly bad movie, there’s always one thing in common: young people. Young people have been instrumental in the success of all these reclaimed trash masterpieces. This is no accident. Young people are the perfect audience for bad films, for several reasons. The most basic is that college students have a great time watching these movies with their friends and a whole lot of alcohol. Some like to hone their most creative insults on these failed works, treating it like a witty bloodsport. But there’s also an odd sincerity to this interest in bad movies, one that keeps young people coming back to poorly edited, horribly acted, and barely scripted films again and again.

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The Graduate 50th anniversary

When The Graduate opened in theaters on December 22, 1967, it was quickly branded a generation-defining movie. Twentysomething audiences responded rapturously to the movie’s portrayal of postgrad malaise and uncertainty, as well as its firm rejection of their parents’ suburban ambitions. (Why get married and get a job in “plastics” when you can run out of the wedding chapel and onto a school bus heading literally anywhere else?) The Graduate became a surprise box office blockbuster that year and launched the career of its young star, Dustin Hoffman.

But baby boomers weren’t the only ones to claim Benjamin Braddock as their own. The Graduate director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry identified with Ben, even though they were approaching 40. Gen X and millennial moviegoers have also connected with the story in subsequent decades, lending the 50-year-old movie a certain timelessness. How has The Graduate managed to speak to so many people? In the new book Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, author Beverly Gray argues that The Graduate achieved this universal, classic status by deliberately avoiding a major topic of its era: the turbulent politics of the late 1960s.

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Room 104 Season Finale Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

Room 104 finishes its first season with a sentimental love story starring a long-married elderly couple. Charlie and Lorraine have a long history with Room 104, dating back to their wedding night a half century ago. Their latest visit ends up serving as a neat bookend to their saga. “My Love” isn’t a surreal or shocking finale, and that sadly that seems to be par for the course for Room 104, an experiment that started out strong only to get less and less compelling as the season wore on.

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Room 104 The Fight Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

“The Fight” reimagines Room 104 as something more than a place for trysts or cash-strapped travelers. This time, it’s an MMA arena. Two fighters are staying in the motel ahead of their big match the next night. They decide to team up, throw the fight, and get paid. But pride gets in the way. The actual fight starts in their motel room that same night. The episode lives up to its name with some brutal, bruising fight sequences. Both opponents know that it’s in their best interest to save the uppercuts for the next day. But they just can’t stop.

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 Room 104 Red Tent review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

It took almost a full season, but Room 104 has delivered its Trump episode. While his name is never mentioned, the specter of Donald Trump hangs heavy over “Red Tent.” He’s present in the unseen, inflammatory politician who tells it like it is. He’s there as a prospective voter gripes about immigration, NAFTA, and gay marriage. Trump is the implicit theme of an episode that also spends a great deal of time on Adolf Hitler. These are exhausting topics, but “Red Tent” handles them deftly through a nuanced discussion between an AC repairman and an aspiring terrorist.

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Room 104 Boris Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

Room 104 has hosted ghosts, voyeurs, and Mormons. But until this week, no celebrities. Enter Boris, an internationally famous tennis star who’s having an erratic evening. Through his unlikely friendship with a housekeeper, Boris faces some long buried trauma. But not before he dons an unusual costume.

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Room 104 Phoenix Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

For the second time this season, Room 104 traveled back in time. “Phoenix” takes place in the late 1960s, just moments after a plane crash. The sole survivor is trying to make sense of what happened to her, and decide what to do next. Luckily, Liza arrives to help her choose a path forward.

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Room 104 The Missionaries Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

Mormon missionaries aren’t the easiest story subjects. Their work is tedious, their uniforms are square, and they only recently got permission to drink Pepsi. Unless you’ve got showtunes, how do you make their stories compelling? Well, if you’re the Duplass brothers, you add in a dual crisis of faith and sexuality. “The Missionaries” follows two Mormon elders as they completely rethink their lives and purpose. Inside Room 104, they embark on their own version of a Rumpsringa. But the next day, they’re divided on the path forward. As you can imagine, it’s a weird headspace to navigate – which brings us to our weekly question.

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Room 104 Voyeurs Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

Ever since its first trailer, Room 104 has been hyping a dancing woman in a red slip. She’s even the landing page photo for the series on HBO’s website. In “Voyeurs,” we finally got to meet her – and the encounter was unforgettable. “Voyeurs” is not your traditional scripted episode of television but instead a wordless ballet full of loss, longing, fear, and frustration. It’s thrillingly original, and it co-stars a motel figure we’ve surprisingly not seen thus far: the housekeeper.

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