Review: “The Disaster Artist”
If you’ve never seen The Room–the captivating anti-masterpiece by muscled, mumbly mystery man Tommy Wiseau, please do as soon as you can. Otherwise, The Disaster Artist won’t make any sense, since this book is thoroughly a companion piece.
For those of you who have seen The Room — you spoon-throwers and line-shouters, you enthusiasts of this wonderfully horrible film–I have no idea whether or not to tell you to read this book. Make no mistake about it: The Disaster Artist is terrific. Every page is a treasure that reveals more background information for one of cinema’s most famous train wrecks. But be forewarned: after reading this book, you can never watch The Room the same way. So much so that I actually feel compelled to do this:
There. That said, if you choose to read The Disaster Artist, watch The Room, one last time. It will be the last time you ever, ever see this movie the same way. Right now, you think it’s a wooden movie full of wooden actors, conveniently-forgotten plot points and disappearing characters. But the truth is much more compelling.
Make no mistake. This is the worst movie ever made. But after reading this book, you won’t see Lisa, Mark and Johnny. You’ll see a hardworking actress putting up with uncomfortable sex scenes and makeout sessions to support her family back home in Texas. You’ll see a struggling young actor make a morally questionable decision for a life-changing pile of money. And most importantly, you’ll see a man whose confidence is both dumbfounding and intoxicating — a character who is both hero and antagonist. A man whose mysterious background and proclivity for inspired chaos almost reaches Cat in the Hat levels. This same man is also painfully lonely. And once you know all this, The Room becomes less a terrible movie, and more a record of the failures of some very hopeful people.
The Disaster Artist was written by Greg Sestero, who fans of The Room will know as the actor who played “Mark,” and Tom Bissell, who has written for Harper’s Magazine, Slate, and other well-known publications. Structurally, it alternates between the story of The Room and the story of the story of The Room. In other words, it details Sestero’s first meeting with Tommy and the decision to write a screenplay years later. It talks about their first days in a San Francisco acting class before Sestero’s promising young–but for the most part, fruitless–career leads him to Los Angeles. All told, by the time you reach the end, you’ll feel as if everything you’ve witnessed–all the midnight screenings and RiffTrax episode and everything–are Act III of the story of The Room, with The Disaster Artist filling in the previous two episodes with hilarious gusto.
The chapters about the actual making of the film are stunning. In fact, many of the now-famous scenes that are excruciatingly painful to watch, it turns out, are actually masterpieces. What made the final cut was the end result of a brilliant crew working tirelessly with an impossible actor/producer/director and creating….something. Anything. Case in point, the famous “Oh, hi Mark!” scene–which lasts seven seconds–took over three hours and 32 takes. The version you see in the film is by far the most usable. And Mark’s reference to the hospital on Guerrero Street, where there is no hospital in “real” San Francisco? In there for a reason. And once again, it’s the most usable take. The stories of the making of the film will make you appreciate the endurance and creativity of a small army of unseen Hollywood heroes. They’re the Mighty Ducks of behind-the-scenes work.
This book reads like honest-to-goodness fan fiction. One cannot devour these pages without picturing Sestero and Wiseau as the actual Tommy and Mark, hitting up LA clubs, flashing money like it’s no big deal, going on adventures in Romania, et cetera. If The Room did not actually exist, it would be easy to believe that this was all dreamed up. (Helpful hint: keep a device with YouTube handy, so you can verify the stories you read about in this book).
The only truly troubling thing is: what is Greg Sestero’s motivation behind writing The Disaster Artist? A cynic might point out that his career hasn’t ever exactly launched in the way he would have hoped. And this book will leave a splash. That same cynic might note that Sestero casually mentions his callbacks for Lord of the Rings or Tigerland. But why? Anecdotal reasons? Name dropping? To illustrate how close he came to a break? I don’t know.
Another, less troubling, point–I can’t tell if Sestero is pulling some good natured ribbing on his friend Tommy, or if he’s trying to distance himself from his involvement? Or even worse–excuse their friendship to the general public? I certainly hope not the latter. After all, as impossibly difficult as Tommy Wiseau is, he’s also impossibly lonely. And during their hardest years in San Francisco and Los Angeles together, Sestero and Wiseau clung to each other because they were all they had. Between the uncomfortable, even psychotic valleys of their friendship, their peaks were surprisingly sweet.
In the end, The Disaster Artist is funny, painful, unexpectedly heartwarming, cringeworthy, and, finally, utterly, crushingly sad. It runs the full gamut of emotions. In other words, It finished what The Room set out to do.
Tommy Wiseau likes big actors. He likes James Dean and Marlon Brando and plays by “Tennesse” [sic] Williams. With The Room, Wiseau wanted to achieve the same emotional power that men like those did. With The Disaster Artist, he finally achieved it.