Tommy, Greg, and the boundaries of friendship



Last week, I went to see The Disaster Artist and was thoroughly fascinated by it.

The film is not a very sympathetic portrayal of Tommy Wiseau, but it is far more sympathetic than I expected. That might be because the main POV in it is Greg’s, who is still friends to this day with the man that wrote The Room.

If the events as portrayed in the film are accurate, Greg should have walked away from Tommy completely a long time ago. Their relationship – well-meaning and loyal as Greg is – reeks unhealthily of poison.

Some of the things Tommy does to Greg include:

– showing extreme jealousy when he sees Greg having a close relationship with someone else. People who want the best for you will not make you feel scared to have other people in your life.
– deliberately blocking him from a big career opportunity, again because of jealousy. Friends support each other.
– tracking him down even after Greg has made it clear he doesn’t want to be friends. This is essentially stalking.
– lying repeatedly about important, basic facts (e.g. his age, where he’s from). Honesty and being able to trust each other is an essential part of any good relationship.
– holding his previous financial support over him like a debt. It is unfair and abusive to offer a gift only to attach strings to it later.

It’s not just Greg who suffers; Tommy treats everyone abominably, despite (possibly because of) his conviction that he’s a good guy.

There is one particularly disturbing section where they are shooting the now-infamous sex scene in The Room. In it, Tommy berates Juliette, the actress who plays Lisa. He calls her disgusting and sends her away, sobbing, to make-up. When not verbally abusing her, he lurches horribly around the set with only a sock to cover himself.

He insists on having an open set for this, regardless of how anyone (not least Juliette) might feel about that.¬†Why does he want everyone to see how he can humiliate his co-star? Is it to prove he’s in control, particularly of women?

When I first saw The Room, I had a suspicion it was autobiographical. I think Tommy was cheated on once (or at least dumped and wasn’t sure why) and never got over the hurt and the wound to his pride, which is clearly enormous. That could be why Lisa is such a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a cruel and cheating girlfriend.

So, if he is trying to demonstrate his newfound power, is he proving it more to the world or to himself? Honestly, it probably doesn’t matter; his deep misogyny is clear in his work.

The other scene that stands out to me is when he refuses to get water or air-conditioning on the set, eventually leading to the collapse of Carolyn, who plays Lisa’s mother. He is completely devoid of any care for the wellbeing of the people around him.

If I had a friend who acted like this out of pure hubris and selfishness, they wouldn’t be my friend for long; but we know that’s not how things work. To his credit, Greg does berate Tommy fiercely, trying to get him to do the right thing; but his friend doesn’t listen.

Friendships are hard to give up, especially old ones, or ones with people who have seen you through hard times. But it doesn’t make you disloyal to draw a line when someone is dragging you into shit.

Greg does eventually realise that, but then he’s drawn back in by the time the movie premieres and slowly he softens up again. As soon as Tommy becomes upset, suddenly Greg is back to offering his full support and advice like nothing happened. They’re best friends again without Tommy even giving an apology.

There’s an analogy somewhere explaining that this is an example of how endemic industry abuse happens, but that’s for another day.

This post is not trying to say you should never forgive or never give second chances. I do it all the time; forgiveness is a fundamental part of being human, because making mistakes is a fundamental part of being human. It’s always up to you when and how you forgive people who have hurt you, and everyone has different thresholds.

But in this film, Tommy hasn’t learned anything and doesn’t want to; I doubt he even knows what he’s doing wrong, let alone why. That’s the problem: when most people realise that they’ve hurt their friends, they’ll try to make amends. They’ll apologise and at least try not to do it again.

I don’t think Tommy has a hope in hell of doing that, because he is too caught up in his idea of himself as a ‘good guy’; and a ‘good guy’ can never be wrong or cruel or abusive, even by mistake. Therefore, in his mind it’s impossible for Tommy to be those things; and so he’ll never change, because he doesn’t think he needs to.

Be careful with people like that.

H x

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