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‘The Disaster Artist’ review: James Franco’s gonzo look at Tommy Wiseau

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in "The Disaster Artist." Credit: A24 / Justina Mintz

PLOT The true story about the making of what may be the worst film of all time.

CAST James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen

RATED R (language, some sexuality and nudity)

LENGTH 1:43

PLAYING AT Lincoln Square 13 and Union Square 14 in Manhattan. Expands nationwide Dec. 8.

BOTTOM LINE Director-star James Franco delivers a gently gonzo comedy about chasing your creative dreams, no matter how abysmal.

In the history of bad movies, Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” has held pride of place since its premiere in 2003. A turgid melodrama with baffling dialogue, dangling subplots and a histrionic streak, “The Room” initially bombed — people at the Los Angeles premiere reportedly demanded their money back — but word soon spread among the so-bad-it’s-good crowd. Eventually “The Room” became a cult hit, a film-geek badge of honor and even a video game.

One of those cultists, James Franco, has directed a biopic of sorts called “The Disaster Artist” and cast himself as Wiseau, the notoriously bizarre writer-director-producer-star of “The Room.” It’s a case of one auteur playing another, and though the project sometimes seems a little mean — a Hollywood star playing a failed aspirant — there’s also something affectionate about it. Franco, too, has had his Wiseau moments, as anyone who saw his groaning 2013 drama “Child of God” can tell you.

“The Disaster Artist” is based on a memoir by Greg Sistero (Dave Franco), a star of “The Room” who met Wiseau in San Francisco at an acting class. Franco’s Wiseau cuts a strange figure — droopy-eyed and raven-haired, with stilted English and a geographically uncertain accent — but his fearlessly awful recital of the “Stella” scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire” greatly impresses the shy Sistero. The two move to Los Angeles (Wiseau, oddly, has an empty apartment there), but their acting careers stall. In a moment of terrible inspiration, Wiseau decides to make his own film.

Wiseau has enough money — just how is still a mystery — to hire a cast and crew for his “real Hollywood movie.” The shoot becomes a gonzo farce in which Wiseau follows his own weird logic both on-screen (he punctuates a tragic monologue with laughter) and behind the camera (he builds replicas of real locations near the real locations). It’s all great fun, thanks partly to Seth Rogen’s Sandy Schklair, an increasingly exasperated script supervisor.

When the premiere audience howls with laughter at Wiseau’s masterpiece, Sistero cheers up his friend with this rather beautiful observation: “Look how much fun they’re having.” In the end, “The Disaster Artist” decides that the only bad movies are the ones that fail to bring us joy. “The Room” certainly can’t be accused of that.

BEST BUDS

James Franco and Seth Rogen of “The Disaster Artist” must really enjoy working together judging by how many times they’ve played opposite each other. Here are four more of their screen pairings.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008) In this stoner comedy, Rogen played a process server and Franco was his drug dealer who are on the run from some bad guys after witnessing a murder.

THIS IS THE END (2013) A better title might have been “Apocalypse No” for this doomsday comedy in which the two actors and the other cast members played fictional post-apocalyptic versions of themselves.

THE INTERVIEW (2014) This controversial comedy starred the twosome as journalists who find out that their interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is just a setup for them to assassinate him. Amid much backlash both here and abroad, the film’s wide theatrical release was canceled.

SAUSAGE PARTY (2016) Rogen voiced a sausage named Frank Wienerton and Franco was a character named Druggie in this raunchy computer-animated satire of Pixar films about food items who discover what’s in store for them once they leave the supermarket. Can someone say panic in aisle 5?

— Daniel Bubbeo

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