Editor’s Note: While this review coincides with the 2016 Sydney Underground Film Festival, which had planned screenings of Room Full of Spoons that were cancelled due to threat of legal action from Tommy Wiseau, the Festival itself did not grant 4:3 access to the film.
Has Tommy Wiseau even seen Room Full of Spoons? Would it make any difference if he had? A crowdfunded documentary by Canadian filmmaker and Room superfan Rick Harper, Room Full of Spoons has gone from receiving dramatic YouTube condemnations, to having screenings threatened with legal action. The world’s worst filmmaker has lived up to his eccentric reputation. But Wiseau’s threats are the Streisand effect in its purest form; they’ve garnered the documentary a notoriety it doesn’t deserve.
Room Full of Spoons barely serves as an introduction to The Room—how do you introduce a film that defies description? If you’ve never seen it, you’ll be tempted to skip the documentary and track down a copy ten minutes in. If you have seen it, well, the film’s been obsessed over for 13 years—the answers to its mysteries are one Google search away.
Through interviews with the actors, crew, and a few armchair experts, Room Full of Spoons covers The Room’s origins, cult status, and most baffling scenes. Harper uncovers a few original stories—like the rehearsals for the infamous “chocolate“ scene, where for two weeks, Wiseau had actor Scott Holmes consume chocolates while kissing auditioning actresses. A pattern emerges: everyone who gets close to Tommy Wiseau finds him amusing at first, until his insecurities threaten to derail their relationship.
In an early interview, a critic explains that The Room’s all tell and no show—but what does that make this documentary? Room Full of Spoons is assembled like a written oral history that was retconned into a film. Harper repeatedly has five people explain each point when one would suffice. It’d make an adequate—if lengthy, at 111 minutes—DVD special feature, or a podcast.
Rick Harper inserts himself into the film as an avatar for Room obsessives, but he comes off as a cipher. Like most of his interview subjects, Harper’s too ordinary to be compelling on his own. It’s easy to be a fanboy, but creating great art takes true emotional vulnerability—and that’s largely missing here.
There are a few exceptions. Tommy Wiseau, believe it or not, has become self-aware. His public persona is deliberately nonsensical—he plays the wacky version of himself the fans want. That’s not the Wiseau who stumbles earnestly through The Room, nor the insecure egomaniac who alienates those close to him—including Harper in an uncomfortable phone call that’s replayed throughout.
Juliette Danielle, The Room’s Lisa, reveals more of herself in both films than anyone. She’s diplomatic about shooting its notorious love scenes, even calling Wiseau “respectful”. She shows a sense of humour—and really, bravery—over a formative experience that was clearly traumatic. She’s so obviously the documentary’s true moral centre that it’s frustrating whenever it cuts to anyone else.
There’s Sandy Schklair, The Room’s uncredited script supervisor, who in reality directed the majority of the film. Schklair deconstructs Tommy’s failed attempts at the rooftop scene with a wit and humour that’s entirely lacking from Spoons itself. He’s the narrator we deserve.
And then there’s Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s former best friend turned The Room’s Mark, now author of The Disaster Artist—an infinitely more compelling psychoanalysis of Wiseau and The Room. His conspicuous absence from Room Full of Spoons, presumably related to James Franco’s upcoming adaptation The Masterpiece, only reinforces the film’s redundancy. The Disaster Artist not only answers our questions about The Room, it enhances Tommy Wiseau’s mystique.
Meanwhile, Room Full of Spoons unearths what Reddit deduced years ago: Wiseau’s country of birth. Harper travels there, even interviews Wiseau’s relatives… and so what? Now we know for sure, and it’s anticlimactic. The film portrays Wiseau’s origins as some deep insight into his character, when they’re really a superficial curiosity. Where he’s from doesn’t matter—only the fact that he made his unlikely American dream a reality.
There’s only one criteria for a documentary: does it tell you more than you could learn from the subject itself? Room Full of Spoons concludes with the usual surface-level reading: is The Room really a “bad” film if it’s brought so many people joy? But The Room isn’t fascinating because it’s a cult film—it’s the other way around.
Most bad films are the usual lowbrow trash, but The Room is middlebrow. It aspires to the human condition. Once you read The Disaster Artist, or try to deconstruct The Room’s true intent, you start laughing with Tommy. Instead of seeing bad actors and thinly sketched characters, you see the tragicomic dreamworld of the real Tommy Wiseau—a man who thinks he’s Marlon Brando, who can’t understand why the world conspires against him. The Room is the photo negative of cinema, but like so much great art, it’s driven by narcissism and emotional generosity. For Tommy Wiseau, mediocrity was never an option.
The Room is a phenomenon, but Room Full of Spoons will only ever be a curiosity. There are many Rick Harpers, but there’s only one Tommy Wiseau.
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