It Is One of My Top Movie-Going Experiences Ever.
You’re either going to understand what that means, and you’ll continue (or perhaps you’ll stop reading right there), or you’ll think, ‘huh?’
Allow me to present the trailer, and you can decide if you want to stick around. I’ll be as spoiler-free as the trailer is.This is actually a hilarious joke because not much from the trailer was in the pre-premiere we saw.
I love an earnest movie. There’s magic in seeing a film that someone poured their heart and soul into. I’m very prone to loving movies with their hearts on their sleeve. Or, apparently, a shark on their streets. Thus, to celebrate our wedding anniversary,
and I drove up to Portland to see the pre-premiere of Tommy Wiseau’s ‘Big Shark.’
‘The Room,’ Wiseau’s most famous work (so far), played on March 31st and April 1st, and Big Shark had showings on April 1st and April 2nd at Cinema21 in Portland, Oregon.
Cinema 21, located on NW 21st Avenue in Portland, has been a cinema since 1926. It’s a locally owned business that is a staple of Portland’s cinema community. Through the years it has had many different names, such as ‘The State’ or ‘The Vista.’ It’s played host to a number of premieres through its time, including ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,’ ‘Slackers,’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’
It’s also got a gorgeous marquee.
I’m a sucker for the sorts of films they show, too. Their coming lineup includes ‘A Face in the Crowd’ (amazing movie starring Andy Griffith and Walter Matthau). Anyway, it was a great little place to catch some interesting movies. They have a history of hosting Wiseau — here’s some footage of one of his Q&A’s from 2017.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and honestly ‘Big Shark’ beat any expectations I had anyway.
First of all, one of my concerns with ‘The Room’ is there was this feeling / worry I had was about the exploitation of Tommy Wiseau and specifically his feelings. It’s complicated, so let me try and unpack it for a second. Remember how I’m a sucker for an earnest movie? Well, The Room is certainly earnest. So earnest, that I could feel he was really pouring his heart into it. This is a man whose favorite movies are ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Giant’ and I can definitely see that, and that was his influence.
I worried that audiences were laughing at a creation that represented a lot of his genuine feelings and that probably stung. I’ve been the person who people made fun of for things I made and it’s never been fun for me. My experiences made me worry that sometimes, the laughter might take a toll on Wiseau’s artistic vision.
I am very happy to say that after viewing ‘Big Shark’ (and its intro and Q&A by none other than the auteur himself), that not only is Wiseau in on the joke now — he’s funnier at telling that joke than any one of us could have hoped. He seemed to really be enjoying himself with the audience, and it really helped make some magic.
How did he do it again?
This was a pre-premier of ‘Big Shark,’ and the audience mainly consisted of people who loved Tommy Wiseau, so we were an audience primed to enjoy fun times with a big shark terrorizing the streets of New Orleans. The plot is straightforward ‘firefighters and best friends attempt to save New Orleans from big shark.’ It was the getting there that neared the sublime in cult movie viewing.
None of us had seen this movie before, and still Wiseau managed to tap into the meta experience of a cult film viewing better than a lot of people aiming straight for it. We whooped at a movie theater that looked vaguely like the one we were in. The audience enthusiastically catcalled Tommy’s character as he stripped off a layer of clothing for a fishing trip. We sang with the characters (‘Cowboys never cry!’), cheered when the shark came on screen, and chanted ‘sports’, ‘pump’, and sometimes ‘vroom’ when it seemed right to do so.
I got to experience a cult film wrap its audience in a loving embrace in real-time.
Somehow, Tommy Wiseau managed to make an audience-participation-driven experience that felt organic, and I can’t think of many other directors that can pull that off. Masterful.
The entire experience made all the more special by knowing that Tommy was there, watching with us. We got to share our joy in his creation with him.
The event’s doors opened at 4, but Tommy Wiseau made sure to spend time with everyone in the merch line before the show got started. Then he made his intro, during which he encouraged us all to have a good time and have fun.
I think it would be a very hard time not to have fun in the crowd.
By the time that the movie ended, we were on our feet and hooping and hollering. This was billed as a pre-premiere, and Wiseau pointed out to begin his Q&A that there were going to be some edits. He awarded a poster to ‘Zero’ (the person who correctly answered the number of sets in the film was nicknamed zero) along with a host of people that he brought down from the balcony. He encouraged those seeking advice that his advice would be ‘keep going.’
It was also great to have his long-time friend Greg Sestero come out to field the question of whether or not they are still friends (‘We’ve done three films about best friends, and I’m here 25 years later!’), along with a few of the other questions. Raul Phoenix was also there, and it was cool to hear him talking about his character (whose animal would be a panther). I hope that Isiah LaBorde made it out of the airport OK (he was supposed to be there as another surprise guest but got stuck!). It was during the Q&A we got to learn that Tommy will be back in May, with ‘props’ from the movie (that were all real!).
I made the subtitle of this piece pretty much say everything I feel about this event. It’s going to be one of my favorite movie-going experiences ever for a long, long time: it’d be hard to beat. Everything conspired to make it so. Cinema 21 is an exquisite venue and created the perfect atmosphere for a movie experience. The event was well-organized and well-staffed by the theater. It’s obvious why it’s such a long-lived, storied place.
The movie was so much fun, and it was all the more so knowing that Wiseau was laughing with us. I will wait until after the movie shows in its final form to talk about what I thought about plot, acting, etc. overall, but after some thought, I do have some questions about some of the influences (I’m really hoping ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ is one of them).
Ultimately, my experiences and love of Tommy Wiseau’s work comes down to the fact it’s inspiring and inspired. Especially after hearing his Q&A, in which he came off as genuine and downright loving towards those in attendance.
Tommy Wiseau’s ‘Big Shark’ gets a perfect seven out of five sharks because I’m a biased reviewer. If you’re the sort of person that loves these sorts of movies — you’ll love this one, and there’s no better way than to see it with an audience. If you’re anywhere close to Portland, you’ve already got my recommendation as to where to go. Don’t be fooled — the balcony has some of the best seats!