Tommy Wiseau, the extraordinarily inept filmmaker who in 2003 wrote, directed, and starred in the so-bad-it's-good The Room, has been called the Ed Wood of his generation. Thus it's impossible not to compare The Disaster Artist, James Franco's reenactment of the making of The Room, to Tim Burton's Ed Wood.
Both biopics are tongue-in-cheek comedies, packed with Hollywood stars, that simultaneously roast and revere their delusional protagonists, much as cult film audiences have done with Wiseau's and Wood's actual work. But Ed Wood was about more than Ed Wood. It was a celebration of the wild world of filmmaking, regardless of talent or budget. And it gave life to the cast of characters who surrounded Wood, for no cult movie is made by one weirdo alone. The Disaster Artist, in comparison, is mostly just an artless vehicle for James Franco's portrayal of Tommy Wiseau, silly accent, inky Fabio locks and all.
Based on The Room costar Greg Sestero's memoir of the same title, The Disaster Artist lumps most of The Room's cast and crew into one eye-rolling chorus of disapproval, while centering its story on Wiseau's turbulent relationship with Sestero, apparently his only friend. Franco's tireless fascination with homosexuality infuses Wiseau's possessiveness of Sestero with an ambiguity that may or may not have roots in real life, but the fact that Sestero is played by Franco's younger brother Dave doesn't come across as creepy so much as it underscores the "don't take us too seriously" attitude of the film.
The Disaster Artist is admittedly a lot of fun. Franco the elder gets in some hilarious line readings and passes adequately for Wiseau (though he's too young and uncreased), and you don't have to be familiar with The Room to get the jokes, though it helps. Dave Franco is convincing as the young Sestero, so eager for a break that he'd say yes to literally anything and anyone. Of the many familiar faces in the supporting cast, Josh Hutcherson gets the most laughs, mainly for his ridiculous wig.
I wish there was more to the film other than "How The Room was made, according to Greg Sestero", but I doubt Franco and Sestero have the capacity to find deeper meanings in the story they're telling. (The screenplay is by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, competent scribes of youthful romances like 500 Days of Summer and The Fault in Our Stars.) Even the climactic on-screen confrontation between Wiseau and Sestero boils down to the film's main running joke: that Wiseau won't tell anyone how old he is, what country he's from, or how he acquired the wealth to self-finance his movie.
In the end, it's hard to discern how meta Franco intended The Disaster Artist to be – some inside-showbiz scenes are so tin-eared that they might have been conceived by the clueless outsider Wiseau, not the entrenched veteran Franco – or if he simply glossed over the details in his hurry to get the film done. (This is Franco's fourteenth feature as a director since 2005; his prolific nature belies a reputation for churning out rushed, forgettable material.) Missed opportunities aside, The Disaster Artist is still a good time.