News Column

Enter the surreal world of the 'Citizen Kane' of bad movies

October 9, 2013


Oct. 09--Like many people, I prefer to read a book before I see the movie. However, some books are best read afterward, such as "The Disaster Artist."

"The Disaster Artist" is the story of a movie called "The Room." The movie's plot is basic: A man called Johnny is betrayed when his fiancee has an affair with his best friend. There are fewer than a dozen characters, and the film is about an hour an a half long. It sounds simple.

It's not. As authors Greg Sestero (who played the best friend) and Tom Bissell put it, "The Room" is "one gigantic plot hole," with tangential plots that go nowhere. There is a violent drug dealer who is never seen or mentioned again. The fiancee's mother declares she's dying of breast cancer, but it never comes up again. Four characters dress in tuxedos to play football for no apparent reason. One of them falls over and that's the last we see of him.

The horrific dialogue includes lines such as "Keep your stupid comments in your pocket!" and Johnny diverting conversation away from his job with a casual "Anyway, how is your sex life?"

The movie's greatness lies in the fact every single aspect of this movie is wretched: the acting, the wardrobe, the lighting, the plot, even the marketing. The result is a movie that mesmerizes with its awfulness. Entertainment Weekly described "The Room" as "the 'Citizen Kane' of bad movies." Sestero and Bissell accurately sum it up as "wildly exhilarating and supremely dislocating."

"The Room" was the pet project of one man: writer, producer, executive producer and director Tommy Wiseau. His relationship with Sestero and the film's creation are the focal points of "The Disaster Artist."

Sestero met Wiseau by chance in acting class. Wiseau's performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" -- during which Wiseau staggered about screaming "Stella!" -- prompted him to reach out to this odd individual with a craggy face and wild black hair that made him look like a pirate. The aspiring movie stars became friends, although not the kind that share secrets. Wiseau is cagey when it comes to his age, the origins of his wealth, even the origins of himself -- best summed up as probably European.

"The Disaster Artist" alternates between this developing friendship and the making of "The Room," each its own peculiar journey. Initially attracted to Wiseau's enthusiasm, spirit and confidence, Sestero discovers his friend can be jealous, capricious, selfish and outright bizarre -- opening Sestero's bedroom door to use his pull-up bar in the middle of the night and tracking him down in Romania to send a Christmas telegram. ("I still don't know how Tommy found me," Sestero muses.)

Wiseau's stubbornness, lack of tact and ignorance of movie-making caused hardship on the set. He arrived hours late every day and forgot lines he himself wrote. He ignored the wisdom of his crew, many of whom quit, and unnerved his co-stars. His auditions to cast the leading lady involved pushing candidates in front of the camera and yelling, "Your sister just became lesbian!"

It sounds like one giant weird joke, and Sestero easily could have treated Wiseau as such. There are plenty of opportunities to skewer the would-be star and mock his attitude and mannerisms.

Instead, Sestero recounts this surreal filmmaking experience 10 years later with grace, intelligence and thoughtfulness. He and Bissell deftly put together an eloquent, wry, absolutely hilarious story. Wiseau's blunders and Sestero's dry observations make for laugh-out-loud experiences every chapter.

There are moments of introspection, too. Although Sestero acknowledges Wiseau's shortcomings and wildly inappropriate behavior, he also shows his vulnerability and heart. It was Wiseau's determination to be a star against the odds that often lifted Sestero when he felt his own dreams were out of reach.

"The Disaster Artist" makes more sense if you watch "The Room"; however, it stands alone as an entertaining, satisfying story about two men on the path to stardom, however unexpected the destination.


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