Book review: The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 4:36pm

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Simon & Schuster
2.5 stars

Janet Maslin

As a book about a cinematic comedy of errors, The Disaster Artist is much better than the mess of a movie it describes. That movie is The Room, which went all but unnoticed on the east coast of the United States until lately but developed a west coast following after its sickly 2003 release.

The Room might never have been shown on a big screen without the efforts of its deep-pocketed auteur, Tommy Wiseau, to buy attention. Wiseau, whom the book describes as looking like "the Hunchback of Notre Dame following corrective surgery", paid to keep a ghoulish billboard image of himself - the film's star, writer producer, director and Napoleon - scowling down on Los Angeles for five long years.

The Room is a sad, plotless tribute to its auteur, who plays an innocent named Johnny, the only decent person in the movie. Everybody else wrongs him, especially Greg Sestero, one of the authors of this book, who played beauty to Wiseau's beast in the film.

Sestero chooses to see nothing too creepy in the possessive, obsessive way that Wiseau recruited him as a best friend after they met in an acting class. In the class, this sharply detailed book points out, Wiseau once threw a glass of water at a wall and kept on doing his scene. Asked about this later, he replied, with the Eastern European accent the book fondly mimics, "I was in zone".

Tom Bissell, whose last book included a profile of Wiseau, collaborated with Sestero to tell the story of that friendship, intercutting it with tales of how the film was made. This is a good strategy, since neither narrative could sustain a whole book on its own.

Among the funny stories about this production is the one about a cameraman (Wiseau went through several) who worked from a tent so that he could not be seen laughing - but the tent shook anyway. Then there are explanations of odd details, such as the use of a green screen to depict a fake San Francisco skyline even though the real one was quite available.

The Disaster Artist doesn't finally say much about the movie business, since this one film and its maker are so unusual.

Now the internet is full of eccentricity and ineptitude, so perhaps The Room is less of a rarity than it once was. But it gets new momentum, thanks to this book.

The New York Times