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The Disaster Artist is a love letter to The Room, and to movies in general

Depending on your point of view, filmmaker Tommy Wiseau is either delusional or aspirational, but in James Franco’s hands he’s also never less than memorable.

James Franco fully commits to playing Tommy Wiseau and all his eccentricities.

Justina Mintz / A24

James Franco fully commits to playing Tommy Wiseau and all his eccentricities.

The Disaster Artist details a filmmaker whose artistic ambitions outweigh his talent. Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, producer and star of The Room, is the title character, a man who miraculously and unwittingly turns disaster into triumph.

The key to telling the story of the making of the worst film ever is not recreating The Room beat for beat — it’s actually about treating Wiseau as a person and not an object of fun. He’s an outrageous character and James Franco commits to it 100 per cent. From the marble-mouthed speech pattern that’s part Valley Girl and part Beaker from The Muppets, to the wild clothes and stringy hair, he’s equal parts creepy and lovable. But underneath his bravado are real human frailties. Depending on your point of view, he’s either delusional or aspirational, but in Franco’s hands he’s also never less than memorable.

Wiseau is undeniably a terrible filmmaker and actor. The Room is an incomprehensible mess, a movie so misguided it starts off bad, gets worse and keeps going, through sheer force of will to become enjoyable. It’s a film so awful audiences can’t take their eyes off it, like a car crash.

In that sense Wiseau reminds me of Ed D. Wood Jr., another filmmaker whose name has been synonymous with failure and ridicule. The 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards singled out Wood’s movie Plan 9 from Outer Space in the Worst Movie Ever Made category while also hanging the title of Worst Director around his neck.

To be sure Mr. Wood was no Cecil B. DeMille, but he doesn’t deserve the critical sneers levelled at his work. Certainly movies like Glen or Glenda and Jail Bait were restricted by their über-low budgets and appear hopelessly amateurish, littered by ridiculous special effects and melodramatic acting, but they are entertaining and isn’t that what it’s all about? Many directors have spent a lot more money and not come close to delivering the same kind of giddy fun that The Sinister Urge pulsates with.

Take Michael Bay for instance. His movies make loads of money at the box office, but never fail to put me to sleep. Visually his films are spectacular feasts for the eyes. The former commercial director has a knack for making everything look shiny but having great taste doesn’t make a great film director any more than great taste makes a Snickers bar a gourmet meal.

To my mind the difference between awful auteurs Wiseau and Wood and Hollywood hit-maker Bay is simple. Wiseau and Wood’s films are inexpertly but lovingly made by someone desperate to share their vision. Bay’s big glitzy movies feel like cynical money grabs more concerned with the bottom line than personal expression. I’m quite sure that if Bay had to undergo the trials and tribulations Wood had to suffer to get his movies made he would run to the hills, or maybe just back to his big house in the Hollywood Hills.

The Disaster Artist is a love letter to the movies and how they are the stuff dreams are made of. As for the success of Wiseau’s dream? It’s like what Adam Scott says about The Room in one of the film’s celebrity testimonials, “Who watches the best picture from a decade ago? But people are still watching The Room.”

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