Actor. Director. Producer. Writer. Businessman. Vampire? These are all words that have been used to describe the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau (mostly by himself). In the ten years since its pitiful opening at a Los Angeles theater, Wiseau’s magnum opus The Room has become an unlikely cornerstone of cult films, while its creator, for all the increased visibility afforded him by the movie, has remained a complete mystery. In The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, actor Greg Sestero (of “Oh hai, Mark” fame) and co-author Tom Bissell examine the process of creating The Room, a movie full of wildly unpredictable (and exceedingly inconsistent) riddles, and shed some much needed light on the true mystery at the film’s heart—Tommy Wiseau himself.
A decade ago, only a few unfortunate souls had ever even heard of Wiseau. Now, however, Wiseau has, against all odds, achieved his lifelong dream. He’s made a film that is still raking in money at midnight screenings across…well…the world at this point. He has become the celebrity he always set out to be, even if it wasn’t quite in the way he had envisioned. He aspired to be Marlon Brando. James Dean. And perhaps, as The Disaster Artist posits, Greg Sestero. In the end, Wiseau wasn’t any of them (nor even close, as anyone who has seen his somehow completely arresting 2003 cinematic train wreck can attest). Instead, he became something far more unique.
The Disaster Artist alternates chapter-to-chapter between Sestero’s attempts to establish himself as a legitimate Hollywood presence while forging an ambiguous friendship with Wiseau and the struggle of making The Room, which places the focus even more on the director’s singular madness. Although most readers will undoubtedly pick up the book in search of the juicy tidbits the latter narrative holds, they may be surprised to find just how interesting Sestero’s own personal struggles are, even beyond his early interactions with his notorious friend of indeterminate national origin.
Sestero’s book follows him as he leaves home, against the wishes of his mother, to pursue a career in film. Despite setbacks, disappointments, skepticism from his friends and relatives (much of which, in fairness, is directed more at his dubious relationship with Wiseau), Sestero pushes onward. He oversteps, makes mistakes, but learns. And so, too, do we. Through it all, Sestero manages to keep his dejection from stifling the dreams of today’s go-getters—he never once directly advises readers not to go to Hollywood. He does, however, paint a very real picture of the reality awaiting many unestablished performers in Los Angeles. The Disaster Artist is just as valuable a resource for young actors trying to break into Hollywood as it is for budding filmmakers learning how not to make a movie.
Our experience with Tommy over the course of the book mirrors Sestero’s own quite handily. We are initially taken in (as readers who have seen The Room can already attest) by Tommy’s bizarre eccentricities. And believe me, if you thought he was a strange character before, just wait until you’ve read this book. But, as Wiseau sinks deeper and deeper into depression in the pre-Room material and into his own hubris during the film’s production, his attitude, mannerisms, and actions become gradually more upsetting and grating. Wiseau takes a disturbing journey over the course of the book, which is made even more disconcerting since we’re seeing it unfold through Sestero’s eyes. When Tommy vanishes for a long period of time, and the only contact with him is a borderline suicidal phone call, we feel the knots in Sestero’s stomach. The authors vividly paint, visually and emotionally, precisely the image of Tommy Wiseau as Sestero knows him.
That The Room is, ultimately, a look into the psychologically damaged psyche of a man who has experienced rejection and pain far more often than he will openly admit is no surprise to anyone who has seen the film. Sestero, having been present at the moment of the project’s surprising genesis (following a viewing of The Talented Mr. Ripley), calls every stage of the film’s production, and Tommy’s own life, for what it is. This is a portrait of a man who is far more self-assured than he has any right to be, but possessing all the natural tact of a 10-year-old. I was kind of surprised, for all his bizarre eccentricities, just how relatable Wiseau was on a deep instinctual level. He frequently seems almost childlike, but as the book goes on, specifically the time period leading up to the making of the movie, Wiseau becomes so burnt out and crestfallen that he’s instantly sympathetic. He really is just a guy with an impossible dream, who can’t understand why his best friend is getting all the “breaks” (which, of course, is much more complicated than Wiseau realizes).
This could have easily been a book leveled squarely at fans of the movie. Hell, I expected as much. Surprisingly, though, The Disaster Artist transcends The Room‘s limited (but always growing) audience and becomes a work that very much stands on its own. Readers will certainly get more out of it if they have seen film, but it is in no way essential to enjoying the book (although the uninitiated will likely be curious enough to sit down with the film by the end of chapter 2).
I was a bit afraid that this book would demystify The Room to the point that watching it would never hold quite the same magic again (sort of like trying to eat McDonalds after actually working there). I’m happy to say that the book and all of its sordid behind-the-scenes details only enhance the overall experience, making the film’s bizarre incongruities even more hilarious. It makes sense, considering that the “man behind the curtain” is, in this case, just as stupefying as the film itself.