I can’t remember the last time I was as enthused about a non-fiction book as I am about Greg Sestero and Tom Bissel’s The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. It’s really something special.
For those of you unfamiliar with cult classic The Room, I urge you to watch these videos before proceeding. No isolated clips can really do the film justice, but hopefully those will whet your appetite for its unique brand of lunacy. (The entire movie is available on YouTube as well.)
Filmed in a parking lot in 2003 at a budget of $6 million dollars, The Room is director-producer-star Tommy Wiseau’s singular vision, a vanity project that transcends mere vanity, a so-bad-it’s-glorious omnibus of every wrong impulse, artistic misapprehension, and petty hubristic idiocy known to man. It is often pegged, along with Plan 9 From Outer Space and Troll 2, as the worst movie ever made. But while Plan 9 and Troll 2 are aggressive outlandish in their particulars, The Room is a different animal. It’s not science fiction. It’s not fantasy. It’s a domestic drama that somehow manages to be stranger than any fever vision of speculative fiction. It’s like an alien visited Earth and later tried to recreate for his countrymen what he saw there. In his grasp of how human beings feel, speak, and act, Tommy Wiseau is on par with the Martians.
In the introduction to The Disaster Artist, actor Greg Sestero (who played the character of Mark in the film) calls The Room “the most casually surreal film ever made.” Ostensibly, it’s about a man named Johnny (played by Wiseau) whose fiancee, Lisa, cheats on him with his best friend, Mark. Crushed by the betrayal of his loved ones, Johnny ends his life by shooting himself in the head. It’s a grand, Shakespearean climax. Unfortunately, its force is undermined by the all the weird side-stops the film makes along the way. First there’s Johnny’s neighbor/young ward, Denny, who seems to hint that he wants a threesome with Johnny and Lisa. Then there’s Chris-R, a drug-dealing gangster who threatens to shoot Denny in the head if he doesn’t get his money. There’s also Claudette, Lisa’s mother, who casually announces that she has breast cancer and then never mentions it again. Throw in Tommy’s undefinable accent, a handful of super-gratuitous sex scenes, and several men playing football in tuxes for no readily apparent reason, and you have an experience so weird as to be almost indescribable.
Sestero uses The Disaster Artist both to chronicle the making of the room and to recount his friendship with Wiseau, who is by turns charismatic, childish, grandiose, suicidal, and borderline insane. It’s a seductive portrait, and a strangely sympathetic one. Tommy Wiseau sounds like a pain in the ass, but one that you’d gladly suffer for the stories you’d later be able to tell.