Published on January 5th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Disaster Artist – Greg Sestero (with Tom Bissell)
You’ve probably seen Tommy Wiseau’s The Room by now, and added it to your list of best worst movies, alongside gut busting wtf fare like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Troll 2. And by now we all know enough about Tommy Wiseau’s peculiarity and how the movie was made to explain how such a cinematic monsterpiece has come to exist. However, what we know about Wiseau has been largely anecdotal to this point, pieced together from different articles and his media appearances (he even guested on an episode of Tim and Eric). Yet, for all we know, there’s a lot we really don’t know, like his real age or where he got the six million dollars he spent making The Room. We don’t really know the man that tried to make his mark on the world with a serious romantic psychosexual-thriller, only to eventually have to back peddle and claim that he was in on the joke the whole time.
Along comes the book The Disaster Artist – My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, written by Greg Sestero, unofficial line producer of The Room and the guy who played Mark in the film (the guy who is having the affair with Johnny’s fiancé). While we can get into the book’s strengths and weaknesses in a moment, I want to first say without a doubt that anyone who loved The Room, or is remotely curious about who Tommy Wiseau is, should run out and grab it. It’s a light read, with funny moments, if perhaps a bit simplistically written (especially considering it has a second writer, Tom Bissell). But that’s not to disparage it — The Disaster Artist is an entertaining book that plants you closer to the inner world of the guarded Wiseau than the other six billion of us are ever going to get. Sestero was in the trenches, and he’s the right guy to tell this story.
Sestero was a young model with acting aspirations that met Wiseau in an acting class in San Francisco in the late 90s. The book follows two timelines — one in which Sestero gets to know Wiseau (or, gets to know as much as the enigmatic and strange Wiseau allows him to) and one in which he goes through the making of the movie itself. While I started out a bit annoyed that Sestero seemed to be making this ‘his’ story, talking about his mother rather than getting more in depth about Wiseau and the movie itself, I eventually bought into it. Sestero shows us where he was in life, vulnerable enough to have been sucked into the whirlpool of becoming friends with this terminal weirdo, and why he was even involved in The Room in the first place. We live through his confusion at Wiseau’s aloofness, bravado, and antics, but we also peer through the human eyes of a friend that saw the good in Tommy. So, Sestero telling it his way was a smart play after all, and maybe the only way we’d actually believe some of the stories he recounts.
I will let Sestero be the storyteller, but let me just say that the Tommy Wiseau in real life (well, from the book, anyway) is more bizarre than you even thought he could be. Sestero gives us insight to the sad, rejected side to this man, but also his blind courage to enact convictions so idiotic that you have to admire his tenacity. He wasn’t concerned with realistic dialogue, continuity, or even, the movie making a lick of sense; he was capturing a lost little boy drama he saw in his head. He conceived The Room through the same warped lens with which he learned English slang and how to execute onscreen melodrama (by taking Hollywood movies as too close to ‘American’ reality). As Sestero points out, the movie really is the ultimate high school boy revenge fantasy. An ‘I killed myself because you didn’t love me anymore — so I bet you feel like a shit now that I’m dead’ movie. And while we don’t fully know what drove Wiseau to tell the story he did (who could really climb inside the truth of that labyrinth and live to speak of the tale), The Disaster Artist gives us a pretty good idea.
While the book probably could have gone into more depth about the movie itself, I won’t complain — it’s just the nerd in me that wants to know about every anecdote, not a problem with the book itself. But it’s a problem for me that we don’t see too much from after the film took off. Making it and releasing The Room was one thing, but charting its slow rise to international heights and then having to watch Wiseau come to terms with the fact that people were seeing it because they were laughing at him would be fascinating. Though, that said, there’s probably a whole other book that could be dedicated to that. Perhaps Mr. Sestero is working on Part 2 (which, I assume will have an even longer title than this book).
The other thing that bothered me was that Sestero goes to great pains to set this up as a story about the bond between two unlikely friends, and greater pains to illustrate how secretive and paranoid Wiseau is, but we never find out what happened to their friendship in the wake of this fame. Are they still friends? What does Wiseau think of Sestero laying bare the life that he works so hard to keep on the DL? These questions echoed through my head the entire book as I drew closer to the final pages, but alas, they were never answered. The book ends at a nice, organic point, but it leaves a lot more to the story to be told.
To slap a much lazier, rougher conclusion on things, I only need to repeat what I said at the start. The Disaster Artist – My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is as worth reading as its title is unnecessarily long. That is to say, it’s well worth your time.