Book Roundup: Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist

Portrait of the Artist as a Strange Man

Already finished my first book of 2015 a week or so ago and have been dragging my ass ever since. This one is highly recommended, but only if you’ve seen the film. If you haven’t, it’s time. It really is so much worse than anyone could tell you.

The_Disaster_ArtistGreg Sestero & Tom Bissell: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (Simon & Schuster, 2013, 288 pgs.): My own experience of viewing The Room came after a lengthy delay—something like ten years after its release. I figured there was little reason to see it; having grown up watching MST3K made me feel immune to any movie purported to be so terrible. I mean, it’s just a film like any other. It can’t really be so much worse than anything else, right?

Wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

You don’t really watch The Room as a movie so much as you watch it as an object, and as you stare in abject horror into what seems like infinity, you wonder just what the hell Wiseau was thinking when he decided, for example, to have three extended sex scenes—two including his oily, beefy self—within the first thirty minutes. Or why a man-child named Denny constantly comes to Johnny and Lisa’s apartment because he likes “watching” them. Or why two grown men so enjoy tossing a football back and forth from a distance no greater than about eight feet. Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist takes us on a journey every bit as interesting as The Room itself, a first-person view of the queer man responsible for what may be the most incompetent movie ever made, particularly considering that funding came from Wiseau’s mysterious and seemingly bottomless bank account. Sestero doesn’t answer every question you might have, but it sure does answer a lot, including the frustrating process of filming what is arguably the film’s most infamous line: “I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did naaaht. Oh, hi Mark.”

The narrative switches between how Sestero came to know Randall Flag, er, Tommy Wiseau, and the actual making of the catastrophic film. Sestero and Wiseau meet in an acting class after Wiseau’s spirited rendition of Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, where he purportedly romps around the stage shouting “Stella!” without regard for his stage partner. They form a bizarre friendship, one that leaves both Sestero and the reader wondering just where this bizarrely-accented man hails from and how he garnered the means to pay $6 million out of pocket for his flick. Despite Tommy’s mysterious and peculiar behavior (for example, buying all the camera equipment for his film instead of renting it, and insisting that every scene be shot on both film stock and HD video, or exclaiming “Touchdown!” after shooting a soccer ball in the goal), that he is genuine man, certainly eccentric but merely misunderstood, a strange person with a strange and clouded past. But as the book goes on, Tommy’s eccentricities turn into manipulative maladies, and the impenetrable shroud of his persona make it that much harder to know which of his actions are calculated and which are spontaneous, whether Wiseau is some sort of cunning genius or a lucky schlep who has somehow managed to avoid being wiped off the face of the earth.

Raucously hilarious in parts and genuinely sad in others, The Disaster Artist captures a portrait of the artist as a strange man, one both oblivious to most of reality and at the same time lonely in an excruciating way, alone in his nouveau riche house in San Francisco, watching Sestero’s Puppet Master clip again and again and again. Weird though he may be, Wiseau winds up being virtually the only constant, the only voice of support in the early, struggling years of Sestero’s acting career, and so The Disaster Artist really becomes a story about friendship and all the perversities that come with it; how Tommy tried desperately to simulate the life he wished he’d led through the film; how, no matter the effort we exert, some dreams just don’t come true.

Anyway, how’s your sex life?


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