There’s been a hefty chunk of time between now and the last time I posted, I know, I’ve fallen headfirst into my PhD attending 3 conferences in the past two months (one of which was international) so I’ve had little time to give my blog any thought. But alas, I’m currently trapped in the airport for a few hours and I have had a lot on my mind these past few weeks (most of it pretty soul-destroying) so in an attempt to cheer myself up, I’m going to break my blog’s (limited) tradition and instead of picking an SF/F or queer text I’d like to talk briefly about Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room,’ Greg Sestero’s ‘The Disaster Artist,’ and James Franco’s 2017 film by the same name.
To preface, I’m sort of new to ‘The Room’ and I hadn’t actually seen the film in its glorious entirety until about a week ago and AFTER I finished reading Sestero’s book about the behind-the-scenes look at both his friendship with Wiseau and the making of ‘The Room.’ It was probably the only book that I read in 2017 (of 50 at present count) that kept me hooked and fully engaged from cover to cover. I literally could not put it down, not even while crossing the street on my long walk home at the end of the day. Trimming the dramatics, it is safe to say that I was intrigued by Wiseau (as many before me have been), his film-making process, and his bizarre yet lasting relationship with Sestero.
Anyone who has read Sestero’s book will know that (from the middle to the end) he focuses heavily on the toxicity of his friendship with Wiseau, going so far as to compare him to Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley from 1999’s ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley.’ Not exactly a positive picture, but one that resonates in the way that Sestero seems to hope that it will. Despite all of the darker stories he writes about his time with Wiseau, Wiseau remains undeniably sympathetic as Sestero waxes poetic about how deeply lonely he believes Tommy to be. Indeed, there were many moments in the book where I found myself looking through Wiseau’s eyes, feeling that loss of control and desperately wanting the people who I felt were slipping away to see me as someone worth holding onto.
It is perhaps a nastier aspect of the human condition, but one that likely speaks to many of us as years pass and the people we love grow distant because they are on a different path. (What struck me more, though, was how aggressively Wiseau rejects this habit of time, refusing to let something that matters so deeply to him slip away). I found that I was often at odds with myself while reading, shifting between deep unexplainable sadness to having to slap a hand over my mouth on the bus to keep from laughing too hysterically. Essentially, I found that the book both rested and rejected a great dichotomy of what is and what we want to be, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
To move from the book to the film for just a minute (slight spoilers to follow if you’ve not yet seen it) I found it interesting how Franco stripped away these darker elements of Sestero’s story to craft a version of Wiseau that was seemingly free from the more toxic personality traits that Sestero described in his book. What is of greater interest to me, however, is Wiseau’s own response to Franco’s film. Speaking on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with James Franco in tow, Wiseau claimed that Sestero’s book was 40% accurate (an old claim) while Franco’s film was 99.9% correct (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT1gOazMMm8). Having read the book and seen the film in quick succession I can only imagine that this is because the film depicts a version of Sestero who is immediately grateful for the opportunity to play Mark in Wiseau’s script (in the book he drags his feet, claiming to know immediately that ‘The Room’ would be a catastrophic failure, occasionally questioning whether or not the film would ever even be finished. In the book, it is not until Wiseau offers Sestero a large sum of money and a new car that he finally accepts the role of Mark.)
Yet the film glosses over the more troubled periods of friendship that spawned between Sestero and Wiseau during their time together in LA and later during the filming of ‘The Room.’ Instead, it portrays a Greg Sestero who is in open awe of Tommy Wiseau from the moment he meets him, a Greg Sestero who is grateful for the chance to make a film with Wiseau, a Greg Sestero who is devoid of many of the self-achievements that he writes of in his book. To be clear, I am not writing an indictment of the film, I genuinely loved the experience of watching it and I’m very much looking forward to adding it to my collection. It makes sense that the darker elements of the book would be excluded from the film, it is, after all, about the making of ‘The Room’ not a biopic of Greg Sestero, and it is beautifully done. Again, what I find interesting here is Wiseau’s own claim that it is much more accurate to reality than Sestero’s book.
Whether or not this is the case (and if reality can be trusted, it probably isn’t) I think what this claim seeks to offer is a deeper glimpse into Tommy Wiseau the person, and the way that he views both himself and reality. Considering the overwhelming self-confidence he is written to have in the book coupled with Seth Rogan’s claims (again during late night talk shows) that Wiseau acted as though it was about time someone made a film about him offers a fascinating glimpse into the heart of this esteemed Disaster Artist.
There is a point in the film where the actors playing the actors who played the characters from ‘The Room’ are sat around a table discussing ‘The Room’ script and theorizing that it is autobiographical. “Who is Lisa, then?” is a question raised by the film with the speculative answer that Lisa represents the universe, meaning that the person who has hurt and betrayed Wiseau the most out of everyone is the universe that gave him life. And if any of the backstory Sestero writes of Wiseau in his book then this is certainly the case, but again I’m not trying to do a psychoanalytical character chart of either Wiseau or Sestero here, what I am thinking about in this small, dingy airport tech room is Wiseau’s grasp – or lack thereof of reality itself and his place in the universe.
As I mentioned before, the book (coupled with both The Room and The Disaster Artist film) seems to rest on a great dichotomy of what is and what we perceive. And what makes Wiseau such an intriguing character is the way he has broken all conventions of show business, making a film that was ultimately a massive flop (at first) and a complete failure should we define success as something that is achieved by meeting set parameters. For example, The Room was meant to be a ‘serious drama,’ a label that no one would ascribe to ‘The Room.’ In that sense, ‘The Room’ is a failure, it do not achieve what it set out to achieve, yet the twist comes when we further consider that if ‘The Room’ had been written to be comedic it would have also failed. What makes ‘The Room’ so worthy of its cult status is its complete lack of self-awareness. So describing the ‘success’ of the film then becomes tricky, because it finds its ultimate success from its failure, existing in the same middle ground that Wiseau himself lives in. Both the film and the man are resistant to the realities and the truths that keep the rest of us grounded. As a parade of actors, directors, and producers claim in the opening moments of the film, this is the type of success that can not be replicated.
‘The Room’ in this sense exists beyond the boundaries that restrict the rest of us, and that very much comes down to who Tommy Wiseau is and the narrative (again, or lack thereof) that he builds around himself. At once, Wiseau is both the performance of secrecy that he builds around himself and 1000% himself. In many ways, Tommy the person is a performance, and performance could be defined by Tommy Wiseau (though if you’ve seen his film, you’ll know he’s not the best performer). But, again, I think this is indicative of the way Wiseau shapes reality around himself. Humans have this very depressing conformity to the laws of the universe that dictate our longer realities as well as our day to day reality. Tommy Wiseau seemingly rejects this, and that, I think, more than anything he has ever created, is why he will be remembered long after the rest of us have gone.
It is this sense of identity that perhaps relates most heavily to what I am trying to do as a scholar, yet it is still floating in some beyond land that I cannot quite reach. I would like to keep thinking about Wiseau and Sestero and the work they have created, the narrative that they have built. So as I sit in this airport mulling over the great mystery that is Tommy Wiseau, I find myself sinking into a bizarre contentment, looking to Wiseau’s self-crafted reality as a standard that I would both love to live by while simultaneously knowing that I never will. And somehow, that’s okay.