“The Disaster Artist” by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell (Book Review)

This behind the scenes account of the making of “The Citizen Kane of bad movies” is a touching story of friendship and ambition, and for fans of The Room is a must read.

★★★★★

Tommy Wiseau is an enigma. Apparently appearing from no-where with a dubious accent, mysterious wealth and misplaced confidence in his acting ability, he went on to write/cast/direct/produce and star in The Room, arguably the worst movie of all time. A film so incomprehensibly terrible that it now has a cult following who turn up to participatory screenings of the movie to laugh at it. Written by co-star of The Room Greg Sestero, this book reveals in toe-curling detail the reason (or lack thereof) for many of the ridiculous moments in The Room. Ever wondered why the film features two almost identical sex scenes between characters Johnny & Lisa? Answer: actress Juliette Danielle refused to film another scene with Tommy Wiseau, yet Wiseau felt it so essential to the narrative he used the same footage twice. Ever wondered why the lighting in the scenes is so jumpy & changes shot by shot. Answer: Tommy was constantly late on set so filming often took place in the change-able afternoon light. And most importantly, could they really not have got a better take of Tommy’s infamous line “I did not hit her, I did not. It’s not true. I did not. Oh, Hi Mark”? Answer: It took them 32 takes and 3 hours to just get one usable shot. This book is a warts and all account of the making of the film, from initial idea to premiere.

Running in tandem to this narrative is a story explaining the history of Greg and Tommy’s friendship. How they met in acting class in San Francisco, both aspiring actors with big dreams and little talent. How Greg actually started to make something of himself, getting bit parts and small roles, and how this caused Tommy to become jealous of Greg’s minor success. How the two of them became both dependent on and resentful of each other – and herein lies the true heart of this book. Through Sestero’s honest writing (perhaps thanks to the help of ghost writer Tom Bissell), we get a real sense of the strange dynamic between Greg & Tommy. While Greg is under no illusion of Tommy’s lack of talent, he is swept up by Tommy’s infectious optimism and determination to succeed. And yet at the same time Greg realizes that Tommy, despite his bravado and confidence is a loner with no friends, and that The Room is not only a vanity project on an epic scale, but also Wiseau’s way of showing the world that he is successful and has friends – by writing himself some.

One of the most fascinating things about The Room is not the film itself, but the man behind it. And yet even Sestero through his years of knowing Tommy as his close (and probably only) friend, knows little about Wiseau’s past. The Disaster Artist gives us Sestero’s best guess. Dispersed throughout the book we get a theoretical past for Tommy, from his birth in Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain to him fleeing to France and then to the US. From here he begins a business selling things on the street, which steadily grows into a small empire. Yet even this is only conjecture, the product of what Sestero has managed to piece together. The most unexplained part is how exactly Wiseau financed the film’s near $6m budget. One hilarious passage in the book between Sestero and the crew has them discussing whether or not the whole project is an elaborate front for money laundering, and concludes with Greg stating “the last person I would ever entrust any part of any criminal enterprise would be Tommy Wiseau … what on earth would impel you to try to get the worlds attention by becoming a movie star – and why would your less public colleagues allow you to do so?“.

Tommy Wiseau created The Room because he wanted to be a star; he even paid for the film to be shown for two whole weeks in a cinema for the sole reason that it was a requirement for any film in order to be considered for Academy Award nomination. And ironically, although in a rather upside-down way, that is exactly what Wiseau has become. Next month sees the release of The Disaster Artist film worldwide, a film directed and starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, and his brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestero himself. Based on this book, and having already given glowing reviews at film festivals worldwide, just imagine the poetic justice of this: March 2018 – the 90th Academy Awards. The Disaster Artist’s star James Franco is nominated and wins the Oscar for Best Actor. Tommy Wiseau walks on stage dressed as James Franco and accepts the award. Tommy finally achieves his dream of becoming a big Hollywood star.

The Disaster Artist film is released worldwide on Dec 1st, and will be reviewed on this site at a later date.

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