Luke Owen reviews Greg Sestero’s memoirs of working on “the worst movie ever made”…
The hilarious and inspiring story of how a mysterious misfit got past every roadblock in the Hollywood system to achieve success on his own terms: a $6 million cinematic catastrophe called The Room.
Anyone who has seen Tommy Wiseau’s The Room will have had questions. Many, many questions. It’s a move that asks so many questions that even on repeated viewings, you’re no closer to answers. Well, ten years after the fact, Greg Sestero (who played Mark in the movie) has given us some of the answers we’ve been looking for in his ‘tell all’ book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made – a hilarious recount of one of the most baffling films ever committed to cinema.
For those of you who have not seen the movie (or have only seen clips of it on Youtube), The Room is the only true and genuine 21st Century Plan 9 From Outer Space or Troll 2. While many directors trip into the pitfall of trying to make a bad movie on purpose and just end up making a bad movie, Tommy Wiseau truly believed that his magnum opus would change the world. The Room‘s story is deceptively simple – a successful banker’s beautiful fiancée starts cheating on him with his best friend. But underneath this 13-word synopsis lies something even odder – the movie itself. While some movies will get a few things wrong in the final product, The Room gets everything wrong. The acting is wrong, the dialogue is wrong, the music is wrong, it’s shot wrong, it’s edited wrong and it’s story progression and continuity are bizarrely wrong. It is a modern marvel of bad filmmaking.
And this is where The Disaster Artist comes in to explain why. Sestero’s book does do a fantastic job of giving an insight into what it was like working on this glorious train-wreck of a movie. From his detailed re-telling of the three and a half hours it took to get the infamous “oh hi Mark” line shot to an explanation as to why some of the characters get dressed in tuxedos to go and play American Football outside only to then take the them off, Sestero doesn’t leave a stone unturned. You’ll be amazed at the amount of times you’ll nod and exhale with a “oh, I get it now” while reading The Disaster Artist. Some might argue that this new information might taint your perception of the movie, but if anything it will actually aide in the enjoyment – much in the same way that Best Worst Movie did for Troll 2.
However, the true brilliance of The Disaster Artist is that the ‘inside scoop’ on the movie’s production is just a lead in for the more fascinating aspect of the book – the story of being best friends with Tommy Wiseau. The book flips back and forth between chapters on the making of The Room with how Sestero met Wiseau and how their friendship formed. At first this all feels quite self-indulgent as Sestro treats The Disaster Artist like an autobiography that no one was asking for, giving us a tour of his history and upbringing which really drags the pacing – especially when you’ve bought the book because you want to know just why that scene in the flower shop plays out the way it does. However it quickly becomes clear why Sestero paces the book this way and how this plays into his relationship with Tommy. He highlights his early “success” upon his move to Los Angeles because it’s important in showing the transformation of Tommy from an encouraging oddball to a jealous and petty crazy man like a male version of Single White Female. This brilliant choice not only puts you on his side during their confrontations (although it would be hard to take Tommy’s), but it also puts you in his shoes as you experience what it was like to live – and work – with the vampire-like Wiseau.
Like a gripping murder mystery novel, The Disaster Artist constantly has you guessing the true story of the mysterious Tommy Wiseau. Where did he come from? What is his accent? How did he get his vast fortune? Just how old is he? What drives a man to think the way he does? And while a lot of these questions aren’t really answered, Sestero plays with his readership by giving them a dramatic re-telling of Tommy’s supposed past that has clearly been pieced together from various conversations over the years. It’s a tale that is almost to odd to be real – but to believable to be anything else. Perhaps like The Room, we’ll never know the true story behind its creator’s genesis, and Sestero brilliantly plays up to this in the text as you learn little details about Tommy along with him. It makes for a gripping read that, honestly, is sometimes more interesting that the ‘making of’ parts of the book.
If there was one complaint to make about The Disaster Artist it would be that Sestero doesn’t dive fully into the reaction the film got and its rise in cult popularity. There are snippets of its fame mentioned throughout the book, but it’s never fully explored. Presumably its because Sestero assumes that if you are are reading the book then you are probably among those who got swept up in the movie’s rise and therefore know all of the screenings, Q&As, spoofs and reviews etc. While it’s not a deal-breaker in terms of the book’s enjoyment, it would have been hilarious to hear from first hand experience what it was like to see this movie that was planned to be removed from resumes grow into a cult phenomenon.
Laugh out loud funny, intriguing and at times heart-breaking The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is simply brilliant. It’s easily one of the most interesting ‘making of’ books you’ll ever read because it’s so much more than that. Not only is The Room one of the most puzzling movies ever created in terms of its execution, but the reality of how it all came to be on top of the bizarre nature of Tommy Wiseau’s general being makes for an incredibly engaging and gripping read. You’ll flip between fits of laughter of the insane production to utter shock at Tommy’s filmmaking “methods” to near-tears during the darker days of their friendship. But above all, The Disaster Artist is a story about triumph and laughing in the face of those who said “you can’t” and it will leave you with a Cheshire Cat-like grin as you finish the final pages.
If you’ve seen The Room, this is a must-read. If you haven’t, go and watch it (it’s one once a month at The Prince Charles in Leicester Square) and then read this book. It will tear you apart Lisa.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.