James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist (Photo: A24)

★★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY James Franco
STARS James Franco, Dave Franco

The spiritual companion piece to director Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, director-star James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is another cheerful Hollywood-insider piece about a man whose ambitions far outweigh his expertise.

In this case, it’s Tommy Wiseau, the mysterious figure who in 2003 served as writer-director-producer-star-financier of The Room. A shockingly inept film about the love triangle between a nice guy named Johnny (Wiseau), his fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), The Room was barely seen upon its original release but has since emerged as a cult sensation. It even inspired a tell-all book, Sestero’s The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, and it’s that tome that functioned as the primary source for this endlessly entertaining film.

Scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the team behind The Spectacular Now and (500) Days of Summer), The Disaster Artist initially traces the growing friendship between Wiseau (James Franco) and Sestero (Dave Franco) as the pair try to make it in San Francisco. Eventually realizing that true thespian stardom can only be achieved in La La Land, the men move to Los Angeles and immediately hit the various agencies. While the good-looking Sestero lands a few nibbles here and there, the bizarre Wiseau has absolutely no luck — this in turn spurs Wiseau to make his own movie, with Sestero as his co-star.

What follows is an often uproarious yarn that finds Wiseau attempting to get The Room made even as his own cast and crew members stare in disbelief at his eccentric antics (Seth Rogen adds some nicely modulated deadpan humor as script supervisor Sandy Schklair). Yet even amidst all the hilarity, there’s a subtle poignancy at work, as Franco (as director) and his scripters clearly admire Wiseau’s sincerity while also taking note of his insecurity. This is especially hammered home in an early sequence set in an acting class — condescendingly told that his unconventional looks and irregular cadence will only allow him to play monsters and villains, Wiseau responds by informing the gathered assemblage that they’re the villains because of how they’re treating him. It’s a sobering moment, and Franco, delivering a career-best performance, sells it beautifully.

The Disaster Artist is engaging enough on its own terms, and it’s not a requisite to have seen The Room beforehand. But it’s definitely recommended. Virginal viewers who watch as Franco’s Wiseau wails, “”I did not hit her! It’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did not! Oh, hi, Mark.” will extract a few chuckles from the scene, but Room rompers had best prepare for nyuks on a nirvanic level.

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