If you’ve not seen it, The Room is one of the most astoundingly bizarre films you’ll ever see in terms of its grand ineptitude. It’s the self-penned brainchild of its writer, director, executive producer, financier, and, perhaps most misguidedly, star, Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is a man who can barely be believed to be an actual flesh-and-blood human, so outlandish and strange is his…everything.
The Room, can most simply (but by no means accurately) be described as a drama about a man named Johnny, whose manipulative fiancée Lisa drives him to his ruin by embarking on an affair with his best friend Mark.
It is one of the worst films you will ever see.
Nothing about it makes sense. The dialogue is so poorly written it almost passes as a Dadaist examination of language itself. Characters show up in scenes to say their lines and then leave, only to reappear moments later to have almost the exact same conversation. Other characters show up halfway through the movie and act as though they’ve been there the entire time.
One character reveals she has breast cancer – it’s never mentioned again. One character has a confrontation with an angry drug dealer who threatens him with a gun – it’s never mentioned again. One character smokes a joint and nearly throws his friend off a rooftop – it’s never mentioned again.
The film is so full of plot holes and inconsistencies that it’s a harder task to find two scenes that actually relate to each other. Needless to say, it’s hilarious but for all the wrong reasons.
While Wiseau intended the film as a searing drama with “the passion of Tennessee Williams” (his own words), the film was met with the sort of response you might expect – one review adroitly described the film as “…like getting stabbed in the head.” It then found a booming revival in the form of a midnight-screening cult hit (you’ll notice the trailer below abruptly stops its soundtrack to include this retroactive rebranding as a black comedy).
It has since gone down in infamy as one of the most misguided attempts to create a movie in history. Its legion of fans devoted to celebrating its terribleness have helped turn the film from a cinematic failure into an event piece that sells out its showings even ten years on from its initial release.
If you have seen the film, you’ll appreciate how hard it is to describe its alien aura to someone who hasn’t. I’ve often considered reviewing it, but haven’t to date mainly because nearly everything that can be said about it has already been said.
“OH, HI MARK!”
Enter The Disaster Artist, a non-fiction account of the creation of the film by one of its leading actors, Greg Sestero, who plays the best friend Mark. The book focuses on two things – the behind-the-scenes account of the film’s creation, and Sestero’s accounts of his and Wiseau’s friendship after meeting in an acting class and winding up as roommates and filmmakers of The Room.
The book is incredibly funny, and an immensely enjoyable look into some more of the mysteries surrounding both The Room and Wiseau himself. Very little is known about Tommy Wiseau, and although the book is incredibly candid about the difficulties of being his friend, Sestero eventually reveals that he knows only a little more than anyone else.
“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”
— The Disaster Artist, p275
With the help of journalist Tom Bissell, Sestero has fashioned the events he describes into a semi-narrative that tells of the insanity of the film’s production, but also paints a picture of Wiseau that is truly, genuinely mysterious. At times Wiseau comes across as boorish, angry, stubborn, intemperate, jovial, friendly, generous, optimistic, enthusiastic, deranged, driven, unpleasant, creepy, sinister, lonely, and ultimately a very odd combination of sad and hopeful. By Sestero’s accounts, these are all perfectly accurate descriptions.
The most surprising thing about the book is how significant a role Greg Sestero played in getting the film made in spite of Wiseau’s egotism and boorish temperament, but also the relationship the two had in the years leading up to its creation – I’ve been laughing at the film for years now and it never occurred to me that Sestero was anything other than an actor in Wiseau’s film.
That Wiseau takes up so much focus of the book is completely sensible given how much he takes up of The Room. The movie can be described in many ways, but nothing perhaps drives it home with more sense than labelling it a six million dollar vanity project. Wiseau put so much of himself and his strange world view into the film and ruled over its production with both wasteful and miserly tyranny that it’s amazing the book isn’t a total assassination of his character.
Sestero’s accounts also give great insight into the miracle of inexperience that Wiseau brought to his own production. Despite requiring drastically different lighting and set requirements, he filmed The Room with both a Digital HD camera and a 35 mm film camera simultaneously, on a custom-made rig that housed both pieces of equipment. The reason why? Because no one else in Hollywood had done this (with good reason). He also bought all of his equipment rather than renting it as most studios do, which is testament to either his incredible hubris or his incredible lack of understanding in how to make a movie.
This billboard is how Wisseau advertised the film. It has no relevance to the movie.
In the midst of all of this, Greg Sestero had to battle an impossible film shoot with a director who wouldn’t listen to sense or reason, but also had the money to afford to make his film entirely in his way. The anecdotes and recollections of the film vividly create the sense of tension and irritation until it’s almost tangible – while always retaining their sense of humour and valuable insight into the creation of the film. The depictions of taking days to film Wiseau successfully film even a single take of lines that he had written for himself boggle the mind.
A third aspect of the book is Sestero’s biographical account of trying to make it in Hollywood, and although he recounts this with self-deprecating fondness, it’s a solid look into the emotional torment of trying to prove your individuality and worth in a city of millions doing the same thing. There’s enough material from these stories alone to make a separate book, and it reminded me of the Naomi Watts film Ellie Parker about a young woman going through the same experience. Even then, Sestero’s small successes (occasional bit parts, auditions and call backs, landing a respected agent) strike a distinct contrast to Wiseau’s 100% absence of any success whatsoever – but also make so much of The Room’s narcissism make so much more sense. Hollywood wouldn’t have Wiseau in any of their movies, so he simply make one himself.
On paper, I wouldn’t have expected this book to work. It’s a personal account about Sestero’s difficult friendship with Wiseau, and it comes entirely from his own, singular perspective on Wiseau and the movie industry itself; not exactly what you’d expect in a book about a film that’s been embraced by hordes of fans sharing its experience.
But work it does, and there’s never a moment of self-indulgence or show ponying from Sestero. His stories detail what a pivotal role he plays as Tommy Wiseau’s best – and perhaps only – friend, but he never tries to frame himself in a heroic light because of this. Nor does he betray Wiseau entirely in his recounting of the latter’s at times unthinkably awful attitude and behaviour.
It’s an incredibly enjoyable read that juggles its semi-narrative focus across the film and the Sestero-Wiseau friendship without ever distracting the reader. It’s a fantastic read for anyone who’s seen the movie, and Sestero has clearly embraced the devotion so many fans have to the film, and respects the cult hit the movie has become. If you’ve seen the movie, you need to read this book.