The Disaster Artist: What a story, Mark!

DA TO TRULY comprehend the unique, surreal majesty of The Room, one must surrender all pre-conceived notions of cinematic competence. It is legendarily bad – red herrings that lead nowhere; grotesquely unerotic ‘love’ scenes; characters spouting incomprehensible gibberish… it’s all here and accounted for but in ways that simply cannot be imagined unless experienced. Helmed by writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau, The Room’s Biblical awfulness has achieved international cult renown, with screenings consistently selling out across the globe, rivalling The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the so-bad-it’s-good stakes.

Greg Sestero – who played (“Oh, Hi!”) Mark – was the man at the eye of the s**t-storm, riding the psychic waves generated by the inimitable weirdness of Wiseau. In The Disaster Artist, with the aid of award-winning writer Tom Bissell, Sestero illuminates the inscrutable fug of “Planet Tommy”, adding a new dimension not only to The Room but also to our understanding of this mercurial figure. Moreover, it’s an uplifting, heartbreaking and poignant appraisal of an unlikely friendship between two men that endures to this day, in spite of the hilarious abomination they made.

And what a film it is. Sestero’s account hovers between the making of The Room in 2003 and the friendship he forged with Wiseau in the years beforehand, succinctly tying the two together with anecdotes and callbacks. Sestero’s often fruitless (Retro Puppet Master aside) attempts to make it as an actor in the cut-throat world of Los Angeles offer us a fascinating insight into the workings of the Hollywood machine, setting up the impetus for Wiseau to personally fund (through unclear means) and promote (through insane means) his botched masterpiece.

In these pre-Room chapters, Wiseau acts as Dean Moriarty to Sestero’s Sal Paradise, with extra dabbings of Tom Ripley and Norma Desmond bundled in; despite being a woefully talentless actor, he’s buoyed by an impossible Bizarro charisma. He lurches from friendly confidante to aggressive egotist in a span of moments, endearing to terrifying within pages. One of the main things that keeps the reader coming back, helped admirably by the fluency and assuredness of the language employed, is his constant ability to surprise.

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What keeps Sestero coming back is Wiseau’s indeterminate charm – he’s so frighteningly convinced of his genius that it becomes infectious. Beneath this near-schizophrenic bravado, however, lies a wounded animal; a horribly lonely man desperate to be loved. Sestero seems to be the only man Wiseau views as a friend, creating a rather heartbreaking story in and of itself; a story that Sestero references numerous times with an intriguing mixture of esteem, pity and, more often than not, bewilderment.

Wiseau’s debated origins and the origins of his wealth remain shrouded in mystery. Though Sestero relates a staggered story of Wiseau’s upbringing straight from the horse’s mouth, crucial details go unexplained while others seem absurd. Much like his film, Wiseau’s closely-guarded private planet keeps its pellucid strangeness. We are given the choice to believe or not.

What makes Wiseau so weirdly engaging is conspicuously absent in the chapters revealing the film’s behind-the-scenes drama. He assumes the guise of every monstrously self-absorbed director ever, twinned with the astonishing incapability of speaking the lines he wrote – most people who have seen The Room have a better knowledge of the script than he did.

Sestero talks about the gruelling days of the production with brutal honesty, describing in excruciating detail the wasted hours in deconstructing then reconstructing whole sets; replacing the entire camera crew twice; the demand for all members of cast to be on set at all times (even when they weren’t required); Wiseau’s habit of arriving several hours late and, of course, his frequent inability to direct, be directed or display any remote semblance of proficiency in his task. The Room cost six million dollars(!) and took six months to shoot. Sestero implores you to let that just sink in.

Throughout the book, Wiseau’s dog-eared determination to succeed ultimately overrides any other impression of his character. Shrouded in mystery though he is, his indefatigable willpower overwhelms us. When the tearjerking final lines arrive, you almost want to start crying along with him… and then you remember he genuinely thinks the film is perfect and promptly start laughing again.

But it is perfect. That’s what sets The Room apart: no matter how relentlessly awful it is on a fundamental film-making level, it’s still probably the funniest catastrophe ever made. Entertainment Weekly’s oft-quoted appraisal of the film runs, after all, “the Citizen Kane of bad films.” Ed Wood, eat your heart out.

With The Disaster Artist, Sestero has given us a wonderful and insightful new window on the sprawling hilarity of The Room. Laugh-out-loud funny from cover to cover, it’s a refreshing analysis of an endlessly fascinating subject, both candid and sweeping in its scope. “Planet Tommy” will welcome you with open arms.