'The Disaster Artist' Review: A Hilarious And Sincere Tribute To One Of The Worst Movies Ever Made

(This review originally ran during our coverage of the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year. The Disaster Artist opens in limited release today and expands next week.)

The most surprising thing about The Disaster Artist, James Franco's adaptation of Greg Sestero's book of the same name, is that it doesn't have a mean-spirited bone in its body. Here's a film about the making of The Room, one of the worst and most baffling movies to ever achieve cult infamy, told with sincerity, sweetness, and pure affection. Franco isn't here to laugh at The Room – he's here to laugh with it. The Disaster Artist has no scorn for its subject. Instead, it is fascinated by this impossible-to-believe tale and the impossible-to-believe movie it produced. No irony. No scorn. Only love.

And that makes a movie whose existence already feels impossible feel all the more unlikely and all the more wonderful.

It's easy to see what attracted Franco to this project beyond the fact that the true story behind The Room is really crazy. The heart of The Disaster Artist isn't the insanity that occurs on the set, but rather the relationship between struggling actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and struggling weirdo Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), whose bromance is akin to those seen in other movies that boast the Francos as leads. Greg is a sweetheart, an all-American dreamer. Tommy is a mysteriously wealthy eccentric with an inscrutable accent. They have a strange meet-cute at an acting class, move to Los Angeles together, and weather rocky platonic storms when they decide to make a movie together. That movie ends up being one of the most infamously terrible films of the 21st century.

What's most striking about the film is James Franco's refusal to transform Tommy Wiseau into a joke. Every comedian has a wacky impression of Wiseau, whose indescribable accent and broken English is easy to mock (especially when he's performing his own stilted dialogue). But Franco offers no low blows – every laugh he delivers comes from his spot-on recreation of Wiseau's personal eccentricities, not his voice. It's thing of mesmerizing comedic beauty, a performance that is so funny because it is sad and so pathetic and so strange and so rabidly determined. It's through Franco's work that we first discover that The Disaster Artist is not a fringe joke assembled by a group of comedians looking to strike a few low blows. This Tommy Wiseau, grotesque and pitiful and unpredictable and, somehow, strangely likable guy, is a tremendous character.

Transformed through outrageous hair and enough subtle make-up to change the shape of his face, James Franco is able to share the screen with Dave Franco without this looking like stunt casting. The two have an instant chemistry on camera, the kind of linked-by-blood connection that you see in brothers and lifelong friends. Dave Franco is the straight-laced foil to James Franco's ageless oddity and this may be his best performance. They make great team and their bromance is wholly believable.

Following in the footsteps of Steven Soderbergh's The Informant, The Disaster Artist fills virtually every supporting role with recognizable comedic talent but refuses to let them get silly. Instead, they play the roles of Tommy's crew completely straight, providing the audience with POV characters who get to say everything we're thinking. As The Room's director of photography, Paul Scheer gets two of the film's most intense scenes. As the increasingly beleaguered script supervisor, Seth Rogen steals each of his scenes with a flabbergasted deadpan – few actors are as good at reacting to total chaos as him.

A few familiar faces pop in small cameos, with some working brilliantly (Judd Apatow as powerful Hollywood producer) while others feel gratuitous (Sharon Stone as an agent). It's only in the scenes that wink a little too hard that The Disaster Artist loses sight of itself and threatens to become a goof rather than a tribute.

And a tribute it is! The obvious comparison would be Ed Wood, Tim Burton's 1994 classic about the infamous B-movie king behind Plan 9 From Outer Space. Although The Disaster Artist is a less stylized affair, they're companions on a DNA level. Much like how Burton was able to look past Edward D. Wood Jr.'s technical incompetence to find imagination and soul, Franco peels back Wiseau's incompetence to dial in on the observation that The Room is clearly the work of a man putting his entire heart and soul into a film, unaware that that he is completely devoid of talent. The Disaster Artist and Ed Wood are both tributes to bootstrap filmmaking and the dreamers who toil in the low-budget trenches. Sometimes, imagination exceeds talent and the results can be magical.

Through it all, The Disaster Artist is funny. Really funny. Franco and Franco are so sweet and enthusiastic and their incompetence so baffling that you can't help but root for them, cheering on one poor choice after another. It helps that Dave Franco's Greg is able to call James Franco's Tommy out on his most deplorable behavior, ensuring that we're never allowed to celebrate the low points. We can only giggle and shake our heads and brace ourselves.

How does The Disaster Artist exist? How did this movie get made? Is there an audience for a movie about a cult object popular with a niche crowd? Who knows? But coming out of the film's premiere, one thing is clear: this movie is a labor of love from artists wearing their hearts on their sleeves. It's as honest as you can get.

In that way, it's like The Room! But, you know, good.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10