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Book review: 'The Disaster Artist' by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

***1/2 (out of four)

Horrendous dialogue like "Leave your stupid comments in your pocket." Awkward casting sessions that make people auditioning think they're about to be murdered. A filmmaker who shoots on an indoor set of a roof instead of an actual roof.

Obviously, I'm talking about "The Room."

"The Disaster Artist," co-written by "The Room" co-star Greg Sestero, provides an extraordinarily entertaining inside look at his unusual friendship with star/writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau, leading to Sestero's involvement in the 2003 film many now consider the funniest bad movie of all time. I've always found "The Room," first and foremost, weird. Wiseau, an abysmal actor, unwittingly underscores countless moments of unintentional comedy--from grown men in tuxedos tossing around a football while standing about two feet apart to characters constantly greeting each other with "Oh, hi" as if they're shocked to see them--with an offbeat creepiness that makes me shiver instead of laugh.

In the hilarious and fascinating "The Disaster Artist," though, page after page after page features an outrageous anecdote that speaks to Wiseau's misguided determination and the stubborn cluelessness of his vision. The film follows Johnny (Wiseau) as he learns of his conniving fiance Lisa's (Juliette Danielle) affair with Johnny's best friend Mark (Sestero). At one point during shooting Wiseau wanted his car to appear to fly off the roof because, as Sestero recalls the first-time filmmaker saying, "It's just possible side plot. Maybe Johnny is vampire."

That's Wiseau in a nutshell. As Sestero chronicles (and what's obvious to anyone who watches 20 seconds of "The Room"), the film's sole creative force has absolutely no idea what he's doing but deflects cinematic and societal common sense whenever possible. (Who transitions away from discussing his own problems by asking, "Anyway, how's your sex life?"?) The book alternates between recollections of the movie's shockingly long, foolishly expensive, painfully amateur shoot and a relationship with Wiseau that began in acting class. Initially Sestero admires the energy of this mysterious man, who blatantly lies about his age and refuses to reveal much about his background. Eventually the bizarre Wiseau's neediness sucks the life out of his pal, transforming easygoing-if-strange hangout sessions into a full-on toxic friendship. Seeking a way into Hollywood himself, Sestero admittedly takes the part in "The Room" because he needs the money. For this financially driven participation despite what he knew would be (assumedly unseen) garbage, he both acknowledges his own culpability and Wiseau's powers of manipulation.

At times it feels like the author's revealing secrets he was told in confidence. Surely Wiseau won't be happy having his hush-hush accounts of his early life and vulnerable, private moments of weakness exposed to the world. Yet the tone of the book never points a finger. Sestero seems to want to increase the public's understanding of Wiseau while also providing unique insight on a variety of subjects. These range from the film's astonishingly terrible costumes, performances and sense of continuity to the abundance of pictures of spoons and the unsettling sensation "The Room" provides of a lonely, broken man using the screen to scold everyone who's done him wrong.

Having just re-watched "The Room," I'm happy to say "The Disaster Artist" rendered the film both funnier and stranger than it seemed before. That's something I don't think anyone believed was possible. 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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