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“The Disaster Artist,” based on the true story of an actor-director wannabe, proves to be a surprise entry in the race for year-end awards recognition.

It’s a comedic tour de force for James Franco, who plays the mysteriously eccentric but earnest Tommy Wiseau. However, it’s also an impressive effort for Franco the director, who until now has mostly dabbled in film shorts and documentaries.

He stars along with his brother Dave Franco, who plays Wiseau’s best friend Greg Sestero, as two actors just trying to make their way.

They meet in a San Francisco acting class where Tommy gives a rather unusual take on a pivotal scene in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Greg is blown away by Tommy’s “fearlessness” in the class and the scene, and they forge a friendship that leads them to move to Los Angeles where Tommy has an apartment.

Attempting to tackle the movie business proves to be a chore. Eventually, they decide to go all Mickey Rooney and make their own movie.

Based on Sestero’s book, “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room,’ the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made,” they truly create that — a movie titled “The Room,” which might rival Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” as the worst piece of cinema ever created.

Directing from a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who collaborated on “The Fault in Our Stars,” the filmmakers document all of the hilarious eccentricities that Wiseau brings to his directorial debut as well as Sestero’s reaction to some of what he’s doing.

Many of those moments are not only dismaying, but also hilarious.

Through his lens, Franco reveals a film with layers worth peeling away.

The first explores the ups and downs of friendships and how Wiseau and Sestero deal with them.

In some instances, it’s not an outcome many would consider acceptable. They certainly make for humorous fodder — mostly.

The beauty of “The Disaster Artist,” however, comes from watching the Franco brothers play off one another. Perhaps the fact they’re siblings contribute to the easiness they display in some genuinely tension-filled moments.

As for their individual performances, James transforms himself into this ditzy character with passion and intelligence who is absolutely difficult to hate.

Dave is more the straight man, but his reactions to the proceedings probably mirror the ones any member of the audience would have.

The key to “The Disaster Artist” and Franco’s success: He finds the heart and soul of the film. It’s not difficult to predict what those things are, ultimately, but there will be no spoilers here. Go see it.


©2017 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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