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It’s not as endearing as Tim Burton’s tribute to Ed Wood, but The Disaster Artist is an entertaining — and affectionate — look at the making of a really bad movie by one Tommy Wiseau.

The Disaster Legend

A disaster looking for 7 seconds of usable film
A disaster looking for 7 seconds of usable film

Tommy who?


Take Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to 2003. A low-budget movie that ran dramatically over budget (rumored to rack up an alarming $6 million price tag) slinks into a movie theatre. It’s called The Room. It’s directed by no-name Tommy Wiseau and features a non-star cast including Greg Sestero and Juliette Danielle. And Wiseau paid to keep the movie playing in that theatre for a two-week, Oscar-qualifying run.

It’s bad. So bad, in fact, the theatre posts a notice at the box office that there will be absolutely no refunds for those buying tickets to The Room. That notice caught the eye of a couple people with time to kill and a cinematic legend was born as people became curious about how bad this bad movie really was.

That’s an insight not included in James Franco’s movie version of The Disaster Artist, but it is included in Greg Sestero’s source material, an autobiographical account of the making of The Room and a look at its mysterious creator, Wiseau.

Actually, to squeeze the entertainment value of every sip of juice, skip reading the book and go to the audio edition, narrated by Sestero himself and including his impression of Wiseau’s quirky speech patterns.

The Mystery Artist

Wiseau is a man of mystery. He claims to be from New Orleans, but he has a really weird, indescribable, unplaced accent that might be — maybe — akin to something Eastern European-ish.

Wiseau claims he’s a movie fan, but he’s oblivious to major classic works and artists, including names like Alfred Hitchcock and James Dean. When he’s asked about Death of a Salesman, he says he doesn’t like comedies. It’s not a good sign when a valid question to ask of a self-proclaimed movie buff is, “Have you ever watched a movie?”

For a guy with no discernible career path, it’s strange Wiseau drives around in a Mercedes and maintains apartments in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. But he was in a near-death car accident, so maybe he suffered brain damage and maybe he got a sweet payout. His bank account certainly indicates he’s not hurting, at least not financially.

How old is he? Where’s he from?

Nobody knows. To this day.

The Disaster Remake

The Disaster Artist is at its core a tale of hope, of following one’s dreams — one’s bliss — all the while blissfully unaware of how poorly things are going. Where Franco’s spin on the tale falls short is in mining that scenario for all its inspirational possibilities. That inspirational component is merely paid lip service as a tacked-on element in the closing scenes.

There’s plenty of humor to be had in watching the filming of The Room come together in a painful, ramshackle fashion. For example, it took 3 hours of countless takes to get 7 seconds of “usable” film. Wiseau, you see, not only directed The Room, but he also co-starred in it. And his acting skills are absolutely atrocious. Non-existent is a fairly accurate description.

It’s also funny as the movie runs over budget and behind schedule. Subtitles following the shooting schedule continue on from Day 1 of 40 to Day 58 of 40.

And it’s undeniable James Franco is great as the enigmatic Wiseau. He’s borderline unrecognizable in his transformative performance. Similarly, brother Dave Franco channels Greg Sestero, right down to the hairdo. So it’s fair to say the filmmaking quality of The Disaster Artist outshines anything found in its source inspiration.

But is that enough?

The Disaster Artist is enjoyable — and likely more so for that niche crowd who revels in midnight audience-participatory screenings of The Room.

But, even as Hollywood players like Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith appear on screen, offering first-person praise for the story and the people behind The Room, and as A-/B+-listers like Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Megan Mullally and Seth Rogen participate in recreating the messy movie, a question persists: Are Wiseau and his craptastic movie worthy of all this attention?

Only to the extent sincere hope conquers all.