Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell’s The Disaster Artist

As I get older (or really, as I get nerdier), I’ve found that I have to dig deeper and deeper to find random things to nerd out about. I pin a lot of this on the internet, making communication about random obscure topics easier, as well as facilitating the discovery and development of new fandoms. It feels like I’ve long since read/watched/etc a lot of the ‘mainstream’ nerd fandoms- so I’m always on the lookout for something deeper, something more obscure.

Which brings us to The Room.

I love this movie, you guys.

The Room, for those who might not have heard of it, is arguably one of the worst movies ever made. However, The Room is just the right kind of terrible. For one, it’s hilariously inept and nonsensical. But the real appeal of the film goes deeper than that; beneath the bad editing, confusing script, and the wooden acting, there’s a genuine sense of passion and emotion behind it. Admittedly, this is misguided passion, but it’s there just the same. All of this can be laid on the shoulders of one Tommy Wiseau, the mysteriously-accented man who wrote, directed, produced, and bankrolled The Room.

On a tangent, I kind of wonder how much a foreign perspective contributes to making fascinatingly awful movies. See also: Claudio Fragrasso and Troll 2, or James Nguyen and Birdemic.

I first saw The Room some years ago, at a midnight showing at an indie theater in St. Louis. A friend of mine helped me demolish a 12 pack of Stag beer beforehand, and away we went. And from that midnight viewing, I was hooked. Watching The Room is a fascinating, surreal experience. The spoon-throwing audience participation is just the icing on the cake, an opportunity to yell and throw things and otherwise be rowdy without having to put on ladies underthings like you would at The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

When watching The Room, the question ‘why’ comes up more often than not. I could break down a long list of the film’s many, many problems, but they all break down to “Why would someone make this movie?”

I read the dead-tree version, but I just learned there’s an audiobook read by Greg Sestero, involving hilarious Tommy Wiseau impersonations. Kinda wish I’d given that a listen now.

The Disaster Artist is an attempt to answer this question. Or maybe it’s an attempt to cash in on The Room‘s fandom. Or heck, it can be both. Greg Sestero, the author (or at least the author who gets top billing) was involved first hand in the making of The Room– he’s a friend (possibly the best friend?) of Tommy Wiseau, which scored him the lead role of Mark in the film. You’ll know him when you see him, when you watch The Room.

Chapters alternate between Sestero & Wiseau’s early friendship and the actual production of The Room, which goes about as well as one would think. Wiseau has no real acting or directing experience, but he does have a nigh-limitless supply of enthusiasm- and money. The Disaster Artist never reveals how Wiseau came by his fortune, mostly because Wiseau is enigmatic, even to Sestero.

For fans of The Room, this book provides some fascinating insights into how some of the movie’s most bizarre (and therefore most memorable) scenes were made, from “oh hai mark,” to “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!”

This said, once you get past the terribleness of the film they’re working on, The Disaster Artist is ultimately a Hollywood story about following your dreams and making movies. Wiseau is obviously deluded when he thinks he can make an Oscar-worthy movie, but by damn if he doesn’t do it anyway. Sestero himself is actually in a similar position, even if he’s not quite as far off as Wiseau is. Sestero details early on in the book how he decides to pursue a career in the movies…despite having no acting experience whatsoever. Admittedly, it’s a decision Sestero makes when he’s young and foolish, and he managed to score the lead role in Retro Puppet Master early on, so that’s something, I guess?

But yeah, The Disaster Artist offers some juicy little nuggets about just how The Room was made, but it also serves (whether it means to or not) as a kind of a warning story, as it really highlights the arbitrary grind of the Hollywood movie industry. And sure, sometimes, if you believe in yourself (and if you have an inexplicable source of disposable income), you can make yourself into a movie star.

But would you ever really want to be known for the rest of your life as The Room guy?

All and all, The Disaster Artist is a fun read, one that even made me laugh aloud in a few places, but at the same time, it doesn’t offer any real deeper insights. The book ends as the lights go down for the world premiere of The Room, but really, the most interesting part is what comes next, with the unlikely cult that springs up around the movie. At least, that’s where I came in.

 

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