Earlier this month James Franco, Seth Rogan and their comedic team released the trailer for DISASTER ARTIST. The film is based on the book of the same name, which recounts the production of the hit cult film THE ROOM, famously considered the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Beyond the insanity that was this production the book also takes a look at the enigmatic mastermind behind it all: Tommy Wiseau, and his friendship with the author and lead actor Greg Sestero. While the book is intended to be comedy- at times it very much is- it is also an insight into a man who lacks self awareness to an astounding degree, and is very much alone because of that. It is about a man who just wanted to make friends. Most poignantly it is about a man who in spite of all his limitations still pursued his dreams.
After a while, about half way through the DISASTER ARTIST, I stopped laughing. In fact, I started to feel guilty for it. Sure THE ROOM is a literal comedy of errors, and Tommy is hilarious in his own way. Yet, he is also a man who doesn’t understand that everyone is laughing at him, not with him. He is almost autistic in his daily functions; debilitatingly so. As someone on the spectrum I immediately began to see soft parallels between him and myself- namely the feeling lonely part and not catching on to the obvious.
Tommy is harmless. Difficult? Sure. In the end, he just wanted to make friends (and movies). Is he talented? Of course not. But he’s a unique force majeure and that’s what makes him fascinating. It’s why there is a biopic of him being released ahead of Oscars season.
Yet I feel guilty for laughing because I suspect he thinks he is talented. On “planet Tommy” he imagines that he is on par with Orson Welles. He sees THE ROOM as his compelling CITIZEN KANE equivalent. He envisions himself as Tennessee Williams crossed with James Dean. His head-strong optimism is so unrealistic it hinges on delusional. Yet that’s Tommy.
The question is, should we laugh at someone like that? Once you reach the third act of this novel, it becomes harder not to feel sympathy for this mans lack of agency. It almost feels like bullying without intending to be.
For most of my youth, I was horribly bullied. I was bullied so badly I stopped going to school, and was left back in the 10th grade. It’s partly why I avoid talking about that time; because I’m lucky to have survived it all frankly. Perhaps Tommy is secretive of his past for similar reasons. I don’t know.
Like Tommy, I’ve often struggled with lack of self awareness too. My filter is in need of work. While not intending to be rash, sometimes I come across that way. My body language contrasts with my spoken language. I don’t always pick the right time to interject. I don’t pick up easily on social cues or others body language. I don’t anticipate things the way non autistic people do. This has created a host of challenges for me because I must learn to improve upon all those things whereas others have taken for granted being able to do them.
Tommy is probably not someone we should laugh it. Sure he’s fascinating to watch. His film is largely popular for the same reason car accidents cause traffic on the opposite side of the road: people can’t help but look. Yet reading about this man, his loneliness and the way Greg sort of continues along with him out of morbid curiosity (and perhaps need) suggests we shouldn’t gawk. It feels wrong.
Finally, reading this story has also led me to question whether I am sort of a Tommy Wiseau. I have begun to wonder if my first mentor only keeps tabs on me out of the same morbid curiosity Greg had with Tommy. I hope he doesn’t laugh at some of the unfiltered things I say with his established friends. That’d break my heart in a way that might prove irreparable. That said, I don’t think so. Surely it would’ve gotten old by now, surely he’d have gotten bored. Unlike Tommy, I also know that -as my mentor said- “[I] have a gift with language.” Tommy doesn’t have such a gift. But regardless any apparent talent, I am still a “disaster artist” at socialization. Due to that, it’s a wonder if I’ll ever make it to the point someone gives me pen and paper for a paycheck.
So I’ll be there on December 1 to see THE DISASTER ARTIST. I strongly recommend the book, especially if you’ve seen THE ROOM. I equally recommend people be sympathetic to a man who clearly lacks self awareness to a debilitating degree, possibly even on the autism spectrum. So laugh, but laugh with the understanding that we should be sympathetic to others and not take for granted what may come easy to us. It is a fine line between comedy, and bullying.