Book Review: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
While taking a drama workshop in San Francisco in the late-1990s, aspiring actor Greg Sestero never guessed he was on a collision course that would result in a long-standing friendship with a much-older wannabe auteur named Tommy Wiseau. An abrasive, egotistical mess of emotions, Wiseau had ambitions beyond even Sestero’s wildest dreams. In the end, their unlikely camaraderie resulted in the creation of The Room, one of the most celebrated catastrophes in the history of American cinema.
For a man who professes to crave the spotlight and yearns for a career akin to that of Johnny Depp, Wiseau is bizarrely closed off from those who know him in real life. Even Sestero, in writing his ode to bad filmmaking, had to reach into the dark recesses of his memory to pull out random tidbits of Wiseau’s life that were slowly revealed to him over the course of their tumultuous friendship. And Sestero is, arguably, the only person who knows Wiseau on any kind of deeper level.
In The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Sestero and co-writer Tom Bissell of The New Yorker, set out to make sense of what became an increasingly untenable situation. After its release in 2003, The Room was either met with derision or was largely ignored by audiences and critics alike. Famously dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” Wiseau’s vanity project cost a reported $6 million — an astronomical sum given its poor quality, lousy script and lack of star power. But, through promotion and word-of-mouth, The Room has become the epitome of a cult classic with a devout fanbase that could rival The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sestero chronicles the madcap adventure of bringing the indie to the big screen with a breezy, engaging narrative voice. He writes as though he were narrating the history of this project to you orally, as though you were walking side-by-side.
For the uninitiated, The Room centres on a love triangle involving Johnny (Wiseau), Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and Mark (Sestero). Johnny is engaged to Lisa, a manipulative woman who, for no other reason than her own perverse pleasure, enjoys mercilessly demeaning the supposed love of her life by threatening to call off the wedding while sleeping with his best friend, Mark, on the sly. It’s a choppy, chauvinist, often undecipherable, script and the movie is littered with continuity errors and terrible post-production dubbing. It’s everything you don’t want in a film combined into one feature — only in this rare instance it makes for one entertaining (and ultimately unforgettable) cinematic experience.
In The Room, Johnny is practically a saint — the only kind and truly decent person in the whole feature. It’s in keeping with Wiseau’s universal need to be liked, respected and successful. So, in essence, Johnny is everything Wiseau is not. Wiseau drives Sestero to the point of madness on numerous occasions, seeking validation for his actions and obsessing over youth and beauty — two things he doesn’t have but tries to rectify by surrounding himself with much-younger costars.
There is an air of mystery surrounding Wiseau that remains, even after reading Sestero’s account. The writer-director-producer-actor refused to reveal his age, place of birth, how he developed his indeterminate European accent, or how he came into so much money. The Disaster Artist often raises more questions than it answers. But fans of The Room won’t mind given the wealth of fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits that Sestero dishes out. Some are hilarious (the infamous “I did not hit her! I did not!” scene on the rooftop required 33 takes) while others leave the reader with a nagging sense of sympathy towards Wiseau (like the time he watched a playback on the monitor and remarked at how youthful he looked and how the other actors in the scene made it look like he was popular).
When reading The Disaster Artist — although one doesn’t read it so much as devour it for all its compelling eccentricities — it becomes clear that Sestero cares for Wiseau. Theirs is a genuine friendship, albeit one built on shaky foundations and with a distinct competitive edge. Yet, despite his obvious affection for Wiseau, Sestero doesn’t hold back — he takes a no-holds-barred approach, opting to paint as accurate a portrait as he possibly can of a man who reveals very little of his past. The Wiseau we meet in The Disaster Artist is an ambitious — and delusional — millionaire with an almost frightening desire to be a well-respected actor.
Despite all the parts that leave you laughing out loud, there are poignant moments that hint at the sadness lurking behind this lonely man’s outward bravado. Sestero offers us glimpses of it, but it becomes clear that, more than 10 years later, he’s still uncertain as to the true state of Wiseau’s psyche. As The Room continues to gain new fans with each passing year — a number that will surely triple once James Franco’s proposed film on The Disaster Artist gets underway — Wiseau has since caved to the pressures and claimed that his feature was not meant as a serious picture at all. Despite this declaration, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would believe him. As unbelievably awful as The Room is, there is an undeniable genuineness in Wiseau’s effort.
In many ways, The Disaster Artist is more about the evolution of a strangely compelling friendship than it is about the making of a cult classic. Sestero jumps back and forth between scenes of their evolving friendship to the production of The Room, yet his account follows a cohesive narrative that draws you into this strange scenario. For diehard aficionados, knowing the story behind The Room will not diminish your love of all its trashy glory. In fact, it may just amplify that enjoyment since you’ll feel, if nothing else, like you were a part of this crazy journey along with Greg Sestero.