As you might gather from my blog about the movie Ed Wood, I have a love for bad movies. Mainly the ones that fall into the “so bad it’s good” category. Movies that are simultaneously atrocious but ones you can’t look away from because they’re such trainwrecks. One of the greatest bad movies of all-time is The Room, and there’s also an associated book called The Disaster Artist.
The Room differs from most other bad movies which are usually monster, sci-fi, horror films or unfunny comedies. This one tries to be a relationship drama: a simple story of an everyday guy whose future wife cheats on him with his best friend and the drama that unfolds from there. The amateurish production, acting, dialogue, and bizarre moments — there’s no way to adequately describe its beautiful badness.
See it to believe it:
I’ll give you a moment to wipe away the tears of laughter.
That weird guy with the long black hair? He’s Tommy Wiseau. While he plays the lead character, he’s also the director, producer, and writer of this stinker. In real life he refuses to say where he’s from, how old he is, or where he got the money to finance the film. No doubt he’s a mysterious, shady person.
The blond guy with the red shirt? He’s Greg Sestero, playing the role of Tommy’s best friend who cheats on his future wife. The actor also happens to be best friends with Wiseau in real life. In the wake of the film’s “success,” including a huge cult following lining up for midnight showings, Sestero wrote a memoir about his experience making the movie.
That book is The Disaster Artist. It was later adapted into a film starring James Franco, though I’d rather focus on the book here. The movie is still a good adaptation, so if you’re too lazy to read I’d recommend checking that out as well.
At first I thought the book would be an interesting “tell-all” about the making of the film, but what I got was a provoking, hilarious, disturbing, and twisted foray into the relationship between Greg and Tommy.
The book is two halves, the first about the chaotic making of the movie. We see Wiseau striving to make the movie, though completely incompetent, not listening to any advice from his tortured crew and making strange, nonsensical decisions. Cast and crew are hired and fired, then brought back when Wiseau realizes he needs them for a future scene.
The second half of The Disaster Artist is a sneak peek into the unlikely brotherhood between Wiseau and Sestero. It’s funny, charming, and touching, yet equally disturbing at the same time. It’s like a bro version of Beauty and the Beast without the beast’s transformation into a prince at the end. Their relationship had haunting parallels to my own friendship with a straight friend.
Greg dreams of becoming a major actor and enrolls in a San Francisco acting class where he meets Tommy, becoming acting partners for a scene in the class. They are polar opposites. Greg is young, idealistic, and attractive while Tommy is older, dark, and secretive. Greg is drawn to Tommy’s eccentricities. getting more questions than answers about his background.
At first Tommy seems like a lovable misfit and even an older brother figure to Greg. He encourages Greg to pursue his acting dreams and lets him stay at his LA apartment while auditioning for movie roles.
Tommy then has an awkward run-in with Greg’s mom. As she sees Greg being picked up by Tommy, she eyes him with suspicion and warns him, to Greg’s horror, “No sex, Tommy!”
Greg and Tommy form a bond hanging out and going on trips together, like to the place of James Dean’s car crash. Wiseau acts like a quirky big brother figure to Greg, or even a father figure of sorts.
As Greg settles in and Tommy goes back to San Francisco to do “the marketing stuff,” Greg goes to various auditions, applying at acting agencies and even getting hit on by a prospective male agent. Little success is found apart from some small performances, like an appearance in the film Patch Adams. He does however land a major part in Retro Puppet Master, a schlocky horror film in which he travels to eastern Europe to shoot. During his time there, he receives a Christmas letter from Tommy:
You are a very special person. You have everything it takes to be a great actor. May all of your dreams come true.
Greg notes he still doesn’t know how Tommy found his address. I don’t know whether to go “aww” or scream in horror.
Sadly, things change as Greg’s first acting break causes his relationship with Tommy to turn from friendship and brotherhood to jealousy and even obsession. Left in the wake of Greg’s success, Tommy feels his friend slipping away from him.
Later, Tommy rather ruefully moves in with Greg and again tries his hand at being a serious actor. Immediately he becomes rather controlling, paranoid, and possessive of Greg. Tommy’s vampiric looks and odd personality don’t land him any movie roles while Greg finds success and even friends. A friendly neighbor invites Greg to a play he is performing in and arrives at the apartment to give Greg free tickets.
Tommy explodes and immediately presumes that Greg is hanging out with other friends and possibly spilling his deep dark secrets to other people. He yells at Greg and tells him the friendship is over and that he is no longer welcome in the apartment. Greg is heartbroken.
“Why do you talk about me to this friend? Why? … You talk about football! You talk about acting! My place! Why do you talk about me?” He was screaming at the windshield, hunched over the steering wheel, too disgusted to look at me. “Why do you talk about me? I trust you, and you talk about me!” … All I had told my hippie friend about Tommy was simple stuff, basic stuff — fond stuff, even. I told him that Tommy was always willing to try new things, things he had no prior interest in, like playing football … I told him how good Tommy could be, and how kind he often was, once you got to know him. I told him how grateful I was to Tommy that he let me live in his place, that he was the only one to tell me to keep going when everyone else in my life had urged me to give up. “Look,” Tommy said … “I decide I’m moving to Los Angeles to be actor. I just want people to leave me alone. I can’t have anyone around at this time. Now is time you find your own place. I cannot trust you. The feelings go away.”
Afterward Tommy relents, apologizes, and tells Greg he can still live in this apartment. Greg returns, only hesitantly.
This episode made me squirm in wormy recognition as it resembled my own breakdown with my straight friend Mark when I saw him hanging out with people other than me.
Things get darker when Greg gets a girlfriend and Tommy endures one more humiliating rejection from the acting community:
“All these months and no call, no audition. They don’t want me. They don’t want me to be the next Johnny Depp … Look at you,” he said waving his hand at me. “You go to all these auditions. You do a good job and get nothing. What does that mean for me? They will not give me a chance.”
Tommy’s words brought up more feelings of recognition. Not from feeling rejected by Hollywood, but by many people in general, particularly other guys I wanted to befriend.
Tommy disappears for months, sending desperate, vaguely suicidal messages to Greg’s phone. When he returns, he is a changed man determined to write and direct his own masterpiece since Hollywood doesn’t want him. When presented with the finished script, Greg describes it as weird, creepily autobiographical, and full of “curiously unexamined homoerotic subtext.”
Thus begins the chaotic misadventures of making The Room. I won’t go into detail about this section of The Disaster Artist, but there was one moment in the book that stuck out to me. One day they end up filming the infamous “alleyway scene,” probably one of the most pointless scenes in movie history: Tommy happens to meet some friends in a hallway, they toss around a football for a bit, and then they go home. Literally no point.
When reviewing the completed footage, the director of photography tells Tommy the scene isn’t working and to move onto shooting the next one. But Tommy refuses.
“This is a good, fun scene. We have good chemistry. And look at this.” He directed Sandy’s attention to the monitor. “You see that? I look strong, like a little eighteen-year-old kid.” That’s when I realized why the scene meant so much to him. In that monitor, at least, Tommy was young and had a fun life and many, many friends.”
This line hit hard. This shows that beneath all of Tommy’s eccentricities, you realize he’s a rich, deeply lonely man who is brooding on the things he can never have: youth, friends, good looks, acceptance. I know those feelings to my core (well, maybe minus the rich part).
My teens and most of my twenties were not fun because I didn’t have many, many friends, if any at all. I know that feeling of wanting to go back, doing it more ideally.
Tommy was creating that life for himself to put on film for the world to see. He’s an old broken man, wanting to re-experience the youth he wish he’d had.
The Room finishes filming despite all the disastrous trials, it’s released, and it becomes notorious as one of the worst films ever made. Everyone involved in the film ironically gains more fame and recognition than they’d ever had received in their more successful ventures.
Tommy and Greg somehow remain best friends to this day and clearly still love each other. They are an odd couple, especially after everything Tommy put Greg through. It’s strange and somewhat inexplicable why this is. I know if I were in Greg’s position, I probably would’ve dumped Tommy long ago.
The Disaster Artist showed me their friendship as a testament to true brotherly love, reminiscent of God’s love for us. The way Greg still loves Tommy after all the heartbreak and eccentricities, God still loves us through our own folly, rejection, and heartbreak.
Have you seen The Room or read/seen The Disaster Artist? Do you relate at all with the friendship between Tommy and Greg?