The Disaster Artist: cult film classic, ‘The Room,’ explored

Book chronicles producer-writer-director-actor Tommy Wiseau’s rise to fame

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is a hilarious and touching behind-the-scenes account of the film Entertainment Weekly dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” The Room. Greg Sestero, famous for his role in The Room as “Mark,” and frequent New Yorker contributor Tom Bissell, were co-writers. For fans, The Disaster Artist goes a long way toward unraveling the mysterious origins of the cult film The Room, and the personality of its even more mystifying creator.

Since The Room’s box office debut in 2003, writer-director-executive producer-and-star Tommy Wiseau’s six million dollar vanity project has amassed a tremendous cult following the world over. Participants in midnight showings (think The Rocky Horror Picture Show,) dress up as characters, throw cutlery and footballs at the screen, and respond to incoherent dialogue as if they were on set themselves. Wiseau is often present, and claims The Room’s ridiculousness is by design.

For non-viewers, the film follows Johnny, played by Wiseau, who is a banker living with his future wife, Lisa (Juliette Danielle). When he fails to get a promotion, she sleeps with his best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Other characters, such as Lisa’s cancer-stricken mother (Carolyn Minnott) and Johnny’s young friend Denny (Phillip Haldiman) appear and disappear, their characters not furthering the plot or character development. But logic isn’t part of the equation, an auteur Tommy Wiseau is not, and the film technique is terrible. From a cast comprised of misogynistic male characters and two-dimensional harlequin women to lack of coherent plot, dream-like sets, random San Francisco establishing shots of locations-never-visited, and dialogue written by a drunken sloth, nothing actually works.

Yet somehow, the film is simply gut-busting. The earnestness of its black-haired, strung-out, vampiric star is charming, as are the cast’s and crew’s all-too-apparent lack of enthusiasm.

Even so, when the film ends, fans are left with many unanswered questions. Who would produce such an hysterical abomination? And to what end?

That’s where The Disaster Artist comes in.

The book doesn’t disappoint. While knowledge of the film is helpful, it isn’t necessary to enjoy the wackiness. My girlfriend and I had a fantastic time reading sections aloud to each other, taking turns giving our best Tommy Wiseau impressions, and speaking in his strange dialect. The Disaster Artist is as much a performance piece as witnessing a live showing of The Room.

Among its admirers is James Franco, who recently purchased the film rights to The Disaster Artist. That’s right—soon, there will be a film based on a book based on the making of one of cinema’s biggest abominations. Tommy Wiseau, I imagine, couldn’t be happier.

It’s easy to assume that The Disaster Artist is Sestero’s payback to the man who effectively ended his acting career. Surprisingly enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Sestero and Bissell craft a fast-paced, captivating narrative that begins with the nineteen-year-old model and actor meeting Tommy Wiseau in Jean Shelton’s acting class. The two become scene partners, then friends. Wiseau, obsessed with James Dean and Marlon Brando, is at first supportive of Sestero, whom he calls “Babyface,” even letting him stay in his LA apartment for a mere two hundred dollars a month. But when Babyface lands an agent and real acting work, Wiseau’s support turns poisonous.

The chapters alternate between The Room’s day-to-day production and the years leading up to it. The mystery that is Tommy Wiseau isn’t entirely solved—we still don’t know the original source of his fortune, actual age, or birth country, although Sestero suggests several possibilities—but the man himself is fascinatingly unraveled as a lonesome iconoclast, fiercely pursuing the American Dream. Sestero, too, does an able job explaining his relationship and justifying it. He was a lonely kid and here was a guy who believed in him more than anyone else.

The work reads like a novel. Wiseau lights up every scene he’s in. Sestero and Bissell recall countless hilarious anecdotes that paint Wiseau as a rich, patriotic, paranoid eccentric who won’t pay for an eight-hundred-dollar generator to keep filming, can’t remember his six-word lines, and invests in a six-thousand-dollar private on-set bathroom separated by a purple velvet curtain.  

The Disaster Artist delivers the answers fans have been waiting for since 2003, without compromising the integrity of those involved. Tommy Wiseau’s rise to infamy is a truly unlikely but endlessly entertaining Hollywood story. 

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The Room

cult films

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