Book Review: “The Disaster Artist”

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In our lives, I think we’ve all done things for artistic expression that we’re deeply embarrassed of. I know I have. When I was in high school, during my Video Production class, me and some friends had made a movie called Navy SEALs on Zombie Island. The title, of course, was a piece of intentional camp. Everyone in the movie was having fun and turned in great, silly performances. Except for me. When I saw my “acting” and how I reacted with a prop (an unlit cigar that I kept ashing every 10 seconds), I swiveled around in my chair and said, “We have to reshoot my scenes. Without me. Someone else will need to play the role of the mad scientist.” The only reaction I was capable of that seemed real was when my pet zombie threw me against a wall and I really did get impaled by two nails straight into my back.

What if that embarrassing moment became a career-defining move? What if that silly movie you made in high school had been seen by millions of people worldwide? What if that favor you had done for a friend that you assumed no one would ever see became what Entertainment Weekly would call, “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”?

Greg Sestero knows all about this. In his book The Disaster Artist, co-written by Tom Bissell, he details in this hilarious autobiographical account the unbelievably true story behind the making of one of the worst movies that the world has ever seen: The Room.

I have been a fan of The Room for years. I’ve been lucky enough to meet most of the primary cast, like Tommy and Greg, along with Philip Haldiman and Juliette Danielle (courtesy of MADCAP theaters and Andrea Beesley-Brown). I almost got to shake the hand of Tommy Wiseau but he looked past me, right through me, and kept on a-walking down the line, meeting and greeting excited and awestruck fans who were there to see this spectacle.

What makes The Room special and not just merely terrible is how clearly personal it is. This is a movie where an auteur had a chance to really tell his story, to face an audience and tell them all about himself.  Making movie is like a method in which you can split your skull open and display its contents to the world and be open about your desires, your fears and your dreams. Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese often stand at the edge of madness and show the world their most negative qualities and insecurities. Tommy Wiseau, however, is not Herzog or Scorsese.

The Room is likely to be one of the funniest movie experiences you’ll ever have if you’ve never seen it. If you haven’t, I urge you to go out now and watch it. What else are you doing today? There’s literally nothing else quite like it. There are bad movies left and right, many of them unintentionally hilarious. But nothing comes close to The Room. Nothing comes close at all. Its status is unimpeachable.

Like everyone, at the end of the movie you’ll sit there, mouth agape and full of questions: How on earth did this movie get made? Who greenlit this? How much did it cost? How did he even get a cast to agree to say the things that were in this script?

From there, I’ll leave it to Greg Sestero to tell you all this. It is, after all, his and Tommy’s story to tell. The Disaster Artist will answer for you your most curious of questions. When did Greg and Tommy meet, and how? What is Tommy like as a person, outside of his “movie star” persona? Did The Room really cost $6 million to make?!

The Disaster Artist is one of the most entertaining books that I’ve read all year. The story of how The Room came to be is oftentimes funny, and I mean laugh-out-loud-put-down-the-book-and-wipe-tears-away funny. How could the true story of Tommy Wiseau actually writing, producing and directing a movie be anything but funny? Surprisingly, The Disaster Artist is also incredibly poignant. Tommy is a complex person who, throughout the production process, suffers various meltdowns and a possible consideration of suicide. He battles with depression after perceiving himself a failure.

The Room may have been an artistic failure, but Tommy Wiseau himself is obviously anything but that. According to him, and according to legend (so, who knows how true the story is?) he escaped an Eastern European, Communist hell-hole to finally come to America, struggling and floundering on his way until settling into San Francisco and thriving, eventually making fortune after fortune—enough to be able to finance his own movie, even being able to afford multiple cast and crew mutinies, people quitting, people getting fired and disaster at every turn.

Greg Sestero narrates the book and makes it clear to us why he and Tommy became friends in the first place and the way he puts it makes total sense. They’re completely different people, but where it counts, they were the same. Tommy is capable of great acts of cruelty and then in the same breath great acts of magnanimity. He’s a contradiction. But, aren’t we all?

This book is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of The Room.  Hell, it’s a must-read for anyone who’s a lover of cinema.  Greg’s blow-by-blow accounts of how he met the man who would direct the movie and then the actual nightmare of a production are some of the funniest stuff I think I’ve ever read. It takes you into the production of a madman’s dream where anything can, and does, go wrong. But, through it all, the story is about determination and the American Dream. When some people proclaim their patriotism from the rooftops, their love seems disingenuous. I would never question Tommy’s love of America. He’s been able to pursue his dreams and, despite how clearly out-there he is, has been relatively successful in doing in.

The Disaster Artist should reaffirm your desire to do whatever it is you love the most. If Tommy can do it, by God you can do it, too. Throughout, Greg details his doubts about the movie, and is quite clear that he always thought it was going to be a piece of shit, but he never lost respect for Tommy. Mr. Wiseau may not know how to tell a story worth a damn, and his hubris won’t allow him to take suggestions to make his work make any sense, but you can’t say he’s not a hard worker. The Room may be completely nonsensical, but how many of us can say we made a feature length movie? How many have been able to experience the excitement and joy that Tommy did when he finished it and had a red carpet premiere, complete with limousine transport?

In that moment, reading the book, I felt nothing but pride for Tommy Wiseau’s accomplishments and so grateful that Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell had taken the time to tell us the story of how it all came to be.

My cat clearly loved the book

My cat clearly loved the book

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