Just over a decade ago, Tommy Wiseau was a wildly eccentric and possibly brain damaged aspiring filmmaker of unknown foreign origin (some believe he is an actual extraterrestrial) who somehow cobbled together $6 million to make, “The Room,” a vanity-dripping cinematic ode to his own misogyny and metaphorical frustration about his rejection from Hollywood. Full of plot holes, cringe-worthy dialogue and not-quite-good-enough-for-Cinemax sex scenes, the film (if you could call it that) seemed destined to die a quick death after barely making $2000 at the box office.
However, word got out that this celluloid turd was actually so bad, it was accidentally great. Celebrities promoted it on their blogs, college kids organized midnight screenings that continue to this day, and Wiseau finally found fame he so desperately craved, even if it was not the kind of fame he really wanted. Around the country, fans attend screenings in costume, throw plastic spoons at the screen, shout out insults and one-liners, and sing along to the R&B slow jams with ironic glee.
Now, Greg Sestero, the film’s co-star, line producer, production assistant, and casting assistant (he also ordered pizza) has written, “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”, a “tell-all” book of the making of what Entertainment Weekly called, “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies.” Those looking for salacious gossip and an answer to the simple question of, “How the hell did this movie get made?” will finally have some answers.
Sestero, along with co-writer Tom Bissell, tells the story of his friendship with Wiseau intercut with the making of “The Room” itself. He meets Wiseau in a San Francisco acting class and is oddly intrigued by Wiseau’s lack of acting talent but endless inhibition. They form a friendship based on mutual ambition but also jealousy; Sestero is everything Wiseau is not; young, American and handsome (Sestero also worked as a model). He agrees to live in Wiseau’s West Hollywood apartment because the rent is cheap and he would otherwise be homeless, yet can’t help but feel that he just might be the object of Wiseau’s Tom Ripley-like affections. His mother, upon meeting Wiseau, tells him, “Don’t try to have sex with my son.”
During the chapters detailing the making of “The Room”, most of the film’s weirdness and “huh?” moments have some explanations. Some examples: one character, “Peter”, suddenly disappears for no reason and is replaced by a new character named “Steven”. There are framed pictures of spoons all over the set. Shots go in and out of focus. And several scenes take place on a rooftop in which the backdrop of San Francisco is green-screened in, quite badly.
Well, the reason that the character of “Steven” appears out of nowhere is because the guy who played “Peter” had to go work on another movie. The pictures of spoons were there because Wiseau bought them for set decoration, but thought they looked okay (he was the only one). Many of the shots were out of focus because Wiseau insisted that they shoot on both 35mm film AND High Definition video, and decided to cut back and forth. And Wiseau decided to build a rooftop set with a green screen in the parking lot even though the studio had an actual rooftop. Why did he do this? Not even he knows.
No one can make sense of Wiseau’s eccentricities and bizarre behavior, not even Sestero, who, acting as a peacemaker between Wiseau and the mutinous cast and crew, had been dubbed, “The Tommy Whisperer.” Wiseau originally wanted his tragically scorned character of Johnny to be a vampire but was talked out of it by his script supervisor. He spent $6,000 of his own money to install a private bathroom in the studio even though there was a perfectly good bathroom facility eighty feet away. Sestero also figured out that one of the executive producers had been dead for years before shooting began.
The book’s greatest strength is its vivid picture of Wiseau’s wackiness with plenty of antidotes that don’t ruin the mystery. Sure, he’s probably a space alien, but from which planet? Anyway, Wiseau is basically the Joker with Downs; he can’t remember lines that he actually wrote and reigns terror on the revolving door of crew members with angry outbursts and cheapness, yet refuses to explain exactly where he is from or how he raised the funds for the film (no one is buying his explanation that he imported leather jackets from Korea).
Yes, the book is chock-full of Tommy stories, but it also unexpectedly gives an accurate betrayal of broken Hollywood dreams. Sestero gets the lead in a Puppet Master sequel only to be forced to accept employment at a Beverly Hills clothing store barely a year later when acting work dries up. Wiseau comes across as a tortured but oddly sympathetic nut ball who has dreams and ambitions just like the rest of us but won’t step off the wacky planet he lives on. Sestero can’t quite help but feel for the guy and neither can we.
Ultimately, Sestero openly admits that there are a few details that he will not reveal about Wiseau because he asked Sestero not to. Maybe the rest of the story will come out when Wiseau returns to his mother ship and goes back to Klagon-4. Either way, “The Disaster Artist”, like “The Room”, is endlessly entertaining. Highly recommended.