Fans of The Room—which has famously been called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”—have learned only bits and pieces about the film’s history since its 2003 release and subsequent ascendance to cult-hit status. More than simply inept or silly, The Room is so perfectly terrible in every way that it almost seems engineered to that end. It seemed impossible that there could exist a writer/director/producer as clueless and crazy yet ambitious and wealthy enough to have brought this glorious monstrosity to life. But there’s no denying the outsized existence of Tommy Wiseau, the mysterious foreigner of unknown origin, the auteur who clearly didn’t understand anything about filmmaking but managed to get The Room made and released through sheer force of will. (And cash of unknown provenance.)
A huge part of The Room’s appeal—beyond its simple hilarity—has been the desire to understand Wiseau: He refuses to answer questions about his personal life, either hiding behind his broken English or simply failing to understand what people want from him. He’s cagey about the money behind The Room—reportedly $6 million—and about his own nationality and background. It turns out that Greg Sestero, one of the stars of “the greatest bad movie ever made,” is privy to more information about his enigmatic director than perhaps anyone else: Not only was Sestero part of Wiseau’s project, he was also Wiseau’s confidant, quasi-roommate, shoulder to cry on, object of jealousy, and, at least occasionally, only friend.
The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made offers two intersecting stories of Hollywood dreaming: Sestero and Wiseau met in acting class years before The Room was even written. Sestero was attracted by Wiseau’s fearlessness and weirdness, and the two became friends, feeding each other’s dreams. And though Sestero’s fondness for Wiseau is plainly stated and re-stated throughout the book, he can’t help but paint Wiseau as he truly saw him: controlling, delusional, and oblivious to the point of pure innocence.
Sestero (along with co-writer Tom Bissell) alternates chapters between the evolving story of the friendship and the time spent on set shooting The Room. Each is fascinating in its way, though Wiseau is pure, one-dimensional villainy on set, screaming at cast and crew constantly, passive-aggressively firing people, and invariably insisting to the professionals he hired to help that his way was the best. It’s mostly very funny, but there’s a constant pall of sadness as well. Wiseau isn’t just a beautiful dreamer trying to get his movie made, he’s also a tyrant with blinders on, chasing a vision that literally every person around him understands is ridiculous. Cast and crew, when they tire of having their helping hands rejected, resort to just laughing at Wiseau—everyone on the production assumes that The Room will never actually see the light of day, but they’re happy to collect a paycheck from a talentless megalomaniac. (At least until they can’t take it anymore and walk off, as many do.)
For Room diehards, Sestero offers plenty of fun tidbits that are a bit less dark: The famous pictures of spoons in the background were simply the pictures that came in frames Wiseau bought, for instance. And the character of Steven, introduced late in the film without warning, was a replacement for a character named Peter—the actor playing Peter had another job to go to.
Because the real-life story has a relatively happy ending—Wiseau has made a career out of midnight screenings and DVD sales, and he now claims the movie was meant to be funny all along—The Disaster Artist feels less like schadenfreude than it otherwise might. But if the super-secretive person that Sestero paints in The Disaster Artist were to read this book—and more importantly understand it, which he honestly might not—he could feel nothing but betrayed. Toward the end, Sestero reveals—in weirdly choppy prose—what he knows about Wiseau’s backstory, from his origins in Eastern Europe to his time in Louisiana to the source of his wealth. (It starts, strangely and fittingly enough, with yo-yos.) It’s fascinating stuff—though lacking in much detail, and possibly full of Wiseau’s unabashed lying—but also exactly the stuff that Wiseau has made clear he doesn’t want the world to know. If Wiseau the prone-to-rage control freak reacts to it, it would presumably be the end of their relationship, which still includes frequent appearances together. If it’s the wide-eyed innocent Wiseau who reacts, the book might be happily accepted as part of his long, inevitable journey to stardom.