The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero & Tom BissellFull Title: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
Number of Pages: 288
How long it took me to read: 3 days
Where I got this book: Amazon Kindle Store
ISBN: 978-1451661194

Like a Moth to a Flame

I was recently introduced to a feature-length independent film called The Room. The Room is what happens when a man with no talent, a seemingly endless supply of money (about $6 million, in this case), and a failure to understand basic human behavior decides to not only write a screenplay, but produce, direct, and act in the leading role of his own film. Did I mention he also speaks with a practically incomprehensible accent and looks like an alien from the Men in Black films attempting to wear a human suit? The end result is a movie that has more plot holes than cast members, dialogue so painful that it insults the English language, and countless characters and scenes that come and go without contributing anything to the plot or moving the story along in any conceivable way. Since the premiere of his movie in 2003, Tommy Wiseau and his film have become something of a cult hit with a growing fan base that has prompted screenings around the world.

I’ve seen a lot of terrible movies in my life (the one’s described as “so bad they’re good”), but The Room stands apart in its own little realm. Part of what makes it so likeable is that, unlike many other poorly made pieces of cinema, this movie is just oozing with earnestness. This was clearly Wiseau’s passion project, and he wrote every single line of unspeakable dialogue to be taken as seriously as anything in Citizen Cane. As the insanity unfolds on screen, you can’t help but wonder what life must look like through his eyes. Being curious, I checked what I could find out online about him but very little information can be found about Tommy Wiseau on the Internet. The man behind what is very possibly the worst movie ever made is something of a mystery. How did this film get made? Why would anyone agree to help him make it? Had he ever heard another human being speak before he wrote this? Had he even met another human being before he wrote it?

Luckily, all of my prayers were answered when a friend of mine told me that Greg Sestero, one of the actors from The Room who had been close to Wiseau for years, had come out with a book that chronicles not only their friendship, but also the events surrounding the existence of this deeply enigmatic film.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “He looked over at me. ‘Well, I have to go now. My friend is here.’ He’d really doused that word in kerosene and set it on fire.” (p.149)

4. “It suddenly seemed possible this guy was actually sort of great. No one who wasn’t great could afford to conduct himself like this.” (p.40)

3. “As we sat through Meet Joe Black, I could feel pain and confusion radiating from Tommy in the darkness of the theater. Maybe he felt he was losing me to something. Worse, he was losing me to something he wanted to lose himself in. Tommy was wondering why nothing had happened for him—and why it was happening for me.” (p.118)

2. “He goes to the library every day and looks at those few books about America that the Communists have neglected to remove from the shelves. T—- touches the pictures. He sees something in them, something he can’t fully explain. He knows he belongs there. With the death of Stalin, little by little, things begin to change in his country. By the late 1950s there are Disney movies in the cinema, though his family is too poor to afford tickets. Nevertheless, the gray, bombed-out world around him is replaced by something more glorious, more Technicolor.” (p.192)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Perhaps Thomas P. Wiseau really is some kind of business savant. As in all things, the simplest explanation is probably the right one. However, this is a man whose skin Occam’s Razor cannot cut. The enigma of Thomas P. Wiseau is that there never seems to be a simplest explanation.” (p.247)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

So, fun story while working on this review: I found out that the author, Greg Sestero (for the purposes of this review, I will refer to Greg as the author, because as far as I can figure, Tom Bissell seems to be more of a credited ghost writer), was actually doing a book reading a little bit upstate from where I live. I traveled up to see him with a friend of mine, and not only did I get to briefly say hi (and get him to sign my DVD copy of The Room since I only had his book on my Kindle), but I mentioned the review I was working on and got him to answer a few unanswered questions I had from the book. I’d like to share our conversation with you below. I’d also just like to say how truly nice the guy was in person; it must be hard to want to be a serious actor, yet you’re mostly recognized for being in one of the worst films ever made. Greg seemed to take it in stride though, and despite most of the people directing the focus of their questions towards Tommy and his weirdness, he seemed to genuinely enjoy himself up on stage, even laughing at some of his own stories or memories.”

Dee: Did Tommy read this book? What did he think?
Sestero: Tommy has read it 12 times, and refers to it as ‘The Red Bible,’ whatever that means.

Dee: When the book ends, we see them going into the first screening of The Room, but we never get to hear about Tommy’s actual reaction to people laughing at his film the first time. What was his response?
Sestero: At first, he kind of leaned over and said, ‘Why are they laughing? This is tragedy.’ But when he realized that everyone pretty much unanimously found it hilarious, he quickly started labeling it as a ‘quirky’ or ‘black’ comedy (not that anyone believed that).

Dee: Did you ever find out his real age (one of the biggest mysteries of the book)?
Sestero: Yes, but some things are more fun when they’re a mystery.

Dee: Seriously, where did he get that money?
Sestero: I guess he was just really good at selling those discount jeans from his warehouse…

“Before starting the book, my biggest fear was that I would find out that the whole project was a joke. Maybe Wiseau was secretly a comedic genius and decided to go all Sacha Baron Cohen on us and pull a Borat, except the joke was exclusively for him. Based on what Sestero says though, this doesn’t seem to be the case, which is a huge relief. If anything, Sestero’s narrative just makes Wiseau’s insanity more believable—a more rounded insanity, but insanity nonetheless. After all, Wiseau is the kind of guy who orders glasses of hot water at restaurants and wears multiple belts to hold up his ass.

“Another reason I used to think that this movie was secretly meant to be a joke was that, if it was really this terrible, why would the actors and crew all stay on board? Couldn’t they tell what was happening during the filming process? How could they have continued after reading the script? Well apparently, most of them never saw a script, or at least not any more than was needed for any given scene. That makes SO much sense.

“It was thoughts like this that initially made me attempt to delve deeper into Wiseau’s story. When I see something as odd as this, my brain won’t let it slide until I can map out a mental image of all the events surrounding the madness. From the time I saw The Room to when I read this book, I felt like the lead investigator on the Zodiac Killer case from the 1970s. ‘Why is there a photo of a spoon in a picture frame? Was Denny meant to be the creepiest character ever filmed? Why is everyone playing football in tuxedos? SERIOUSLY DENNY, WHAT IS YOUR DEAL?’ These questions no longer keep me up at night.”

“Picking up this book, I was so excited to learn more about the mysteries of Wiseau that I forgot that a lot of the story would be about Sestero. Sestero’s story, even the parts without Wiseau and his madness, are much more interesting than I imagined they’d be. A little secret about me: I, along with about twenty million other people, had many dreams as a teenager of moving to California and fighting my way into the film industry (screenwriting, in my case). Unfortunately, I was timid growing up, so fighting my way into anything wasn’t part of my personality. Sestero is a shining example of what determination can accomplish; even though he never hit it big, he certainly had the driving force to make an impression on Hollywood. I really respect the man for that. His is a sad tale at times, but I find myself genuinely rooting for him whenever he seems to get even a little closer to achieving his dream. During the book reading I went to in upstate New York, my friend and I actually got to go up on stage with Sestero and read excerpts of the script from The Room, It was such a good time that it reminded me of why I love the entertainment industry so much.”

“It’s funny how, inadvertently, this movie put Wiseau exactly where he wanted to be. While he seemed convinced that his movie would be the next Casablanca (and himself, perhaps, the next older, foreign James Deen or Marlon Brando?), it certainly has given him the recognition and fame that he so sought after. Just the fact that this book exists, and that there’s a serious audience for it, tells us that he’s won. No matter how terrible he may be at what he does, how insane his ambitions or crazy his methods to achieve them, he nevertheless got to where he wanted to go. Tommy’s pure ambition has beaten out logic and everything we understand about how the world should work.

“I, on the other hand, bring to the table a much less inspiring story. Once upon a time, I decided to become an English major in college. Everyone looked at me kind of funny when I told them what I had declared, but I stood confident in my decision, despite not really knowing what the future would hold for me. I didn’t have direction, but I had passion and ambition, and I thought that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the real world didn’t agree with my life choices; when I graduated, I found myself unemployable. It’s probably not the best story to tell on a site for literary lovers, but logic won out over me that time, and I found myself having to rethink my situation. I still love all things reading and writing, but I’ve accepted that it’s a passion that I’ll share on the side of another more opportune occupation for this day.”

“Deep down, what I love most about this story is that it’s an extraordinary tale of the American Dream. Too many people are caught up on The Room because, ‘Oh man, it’s hilarious guys. These people are so bad at acting. The dialogue makes no sense!’ It’s so much more than that, though. It’s about how a man who seemingly came from nothing managed to not only make millions, but to force his way into arguably the most exclusive and desirable industry in the United States. To top it all off, since he wasn’t about to enter the film industry via traditional routes, he paved his own path on nothing but deranged dreams, stubborn ambition, and money from his own pocket. If that’s not the epitome of the American Dream, then slap banana puree on my face and call me beautiful.

“These days, too many people seek fame through easy and more instantly gratifying means (YouTube and social media come to mind). Everyone wants recognition, but they want to put in zero effort in return. Wiseau’s life helps the American Dream withstand the ineffective workarounds the Internet affords: hard work and perseverance winning the battle in the face of adversity and rejection (and I’m sure there was a lot of rejection in this case). Hell, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put this much work into a project that I care about. The next time you completely dismiss Wiseau as a crazy weirdo, just try to keep all of this in mind.”

“The one thing I didn’t expect from the book was how heartbroken I would feel after reading the sections on Wiseau’s backstory. Broken up into tiny segments and scattered throughout the second half of the book, Sestero shares stories that Wiseau told him over the years, whether accurate or not, that give a deeper insight into the events that molded Wiseau into the iconic figure many know and love today. I was excited to learn more about his past, but I was devastated by how tragic it was. This was a man who began life in a war-damaged communist country with little family or friends, and all he dreamed about was someday making it to America. I put one of my favorite quotes from this part of the book at the top of the review because it was the first time I regretted ever having laughed at Wiseau in the past. It talks about the first time Wiseau saw a Disney movie as a child; a brutally innocent and overwhelmingly sweet scene. I wanted to hate myself for all the times I’ve taken for granted the countless advantages I had growing up in an American middle class family. I never expected this level of emotional response in a book that’s about a guy who made a really terrible cult movie, but just like Sestero says about Wiseau, I guess there really is nothing simple about this story.”

Jared Dee

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