A Room with a view: The unlikely success story of ‘The Disaster Artist’

This weekend, I was planning to see and review “The Disaster Artist,” James Franco’s adaptation of the fascinating memoir that chronicles the making of the cult film “The Room.” However, to my great disappointment, I discovered my local theater wouldn’t be running “The Disaster Artist” (“You’re tearing me apart, AMC Theaters!!!”). Yet since “The Disaster Artist” is all about finding another path when Hollywood closes a door on you, I’m going to write about “The Room” and “The Disaster Artist” (book) anyway.

My husband and I’s obsession with “The Room” and “The Disaster Artist” began innocently enough — as wacky obsessions often do. He’d found this book called “The Disaster Artist” at our local library and brought it home because it looked like an interesting true-life story. He proceeded to read the first couple of pages to me and I laughed so hard I cried. I immediately had to stop him and beg him not to read anymore, because I had to read and experience this book for myself.

For the uninitiated, “The Disaster Artist” book is co-written by Greg Sestero, one of the ill-fated actors who starred in “The Room.” “The Room” is basically about this guy named Johnny who has a great life, good job and caring friends, except wait, he doesn’t because all his friends end up betraying him. It’s sometimes lovingly referred to as the “Citizen Kane of bad movies” — it’s stunningly, spectacularly bad, with some of the worst dialogue, acting and plot lines you’ll ever see on film. Yet of course, it’s exactly this epic awfulness that makes the film so fascinating. That, and the mysterious figure behind it all: “The Room’s” writer, director, producer AND lead actor, Tommy Wiseau.

I truly believe there is no other person on this planet quite like Tommy Wiseau. When first meeting Wiseau, Sestero found him strange, eccentric and intriguing, with an endless list of quirks — including, but not limited to, a love for ordering hot water at restaurants and wearing two belts at one time. Wiseau was stubbornly cryptic about his past (although lately he’s begun to open up a little) and just as stubbornly dedicated to his dream of being an actor. When he couldn’t find success through traditional avenues in Hollywood, he decided to stick it to the system and finance his own film.

Despite having no idea how Wiseau got his money, Sestero agreed to be in the movie. Wiseau may have written the script, but he had a terrible time remembering his own lines, which often made little sense anyway. (Although the famous “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” is a cinematic gem.) The final product was truly terrible, and it should have quickly faded from the spotlight, like plenty of other Hollywood flops. However, something about “The Room’s” unique awfulness gained it a following as a cult film, and now we have James Franco releasing a critically-acclaimed adaptation of “The Disaster Artist.”

Initially I was a bit worried about Franco’s adaptation, fearing he’d go for a straight comedy. Don’t get me wrong — “The Disaster Artist” is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and I’d be disappointed if the film version didn’t have the same number of laughs. But there’s also some surprisingly darker threads running through the book that make it more of a poignant read than you might expect. The book shows how Wiseau could sometimes be a not-so-nice person, capable of being cruel and self-centered, even to his friends. Still, you get the feeling that in his shadowy past, this man has had some cruel and heartbreaking things done to him. And in the end, his unusual path to success is oddly inspiring.

The book is one that I think every film fan should read, because it allows us to see Hollywood from a new perspective. Every year many aspiring actors come to Hollywood and then many of them leave, never finding “their big break.” Even though Wiseau didn’t find traditional success, he’s arguably a well-known figure now for having created a film that’s so bad it’s iconic. And if you haven’t seen “The Room” yet, well, what are you waiting for? You’ll probably regret watching it and will want to bang your head against the TV…but then you’ll want to watch it again.

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