The Disaster Artist

by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

The Room is a bad movie, but it’s more than that. It’s a special kind of bad, an elite kind of bad, described as a modern Plan 9 from Outer Space or the Citizen Kane of bad movies––the kind of bad movie with a lasting legacy. The Disaster Artist is the account of its co-star, Sestero, on not only his experience working on The Room, but his trials and tribulations as a struggling actor in San Francisco and Los Angeles that got him there, as well as his friendship with the movie’s wacky and reclusive writer/director/producer/lead actor, Tommy Wiseau.

The two met at an acting class in Frisco in the late ’90s, providing each other with encouragement at a time when both really needed it. The author describes being attracted to a man who doesn’t follow the rules of drama at all––he forgets his lines, loses focus mid-scene, and often goes completely off the rails, all while choosing to ignore the advice of their teacher. They start “acting” in scenes together, then spending more time together outside of class, with Wiseau eventually letting Sestero stay in his L.A. apartment for dirt cheap (cheap cheap cheap) rent. This gives him a sort of base of operations, letting him get his foot in the Hollywood door, landing an agent, auditions, and minor acting roles, including a lead role in a B-horror film. During this time, Wiseau doesn’t live with him, but he makes sure to phone multiple times a day to check in; Sestero begins to get a bit creeped out by Tommy’s clingy and paranoid behaviour, which drives the two apart until the eventual filming of Wiseau’s “masterpiece.”

Sestero’s perceptions of this odd relationship, along with discussions of Wiseau’s character and mysterious background, make up the meat of the book, and it suggests a lot about each personality. The distance between the two started growing when the author began making strides as an actor, at the same time that Wiseau’s acting career failed to launch. It feels as though some small success got to Sestero’s head at least a bit––which comes across in the way he frequently describes his friend’s ineptitude––and Wiseau seemed to understand this. It’s almost as if the rejection by possibly the only person Wiseau opened up to confirmed his worst fears about betrayal and of an establishment that didn’t care about him. This comes to a head with Wiseau’s freak out in his car where he tells Sestero that he has to move out immediately, the exchange that leaves the author in tears. Seeing the reaction from his friend, Wiseau softens. Sestero takes this to mean that Wiseau is happy to find that he still can get a reaction out of him, that he still has a measure of control over Sestero. This very much struck me as telling more about the author than his subject, as it looks, to me, more like someone having no intention of hurting his friend, his change of heart having more to do with feeling bad when he realized what happened than some power struggle.

Of course, I shouldn’t blame the author too much for interpreting Wiseau this way, for he witnessed so many weird and crazy things from the man that he probably didn’t know what to think. And Sestero’s reminiscences of these quirks, of the man’s incompetence on the set, and of many Wiseau-isms he was subject to make for a sometimes surreal and often hilarious read. By the end, Sestero paints a picture of a man who, despite his inconsistencies and absurdities, knew what he wanted and took it. I never thought I could take inspiration away from anything connected to such a terrible movie, but, somehow, here we are.