Bad movies have a history that is sometimes even more fascinating than the background of the canon of great films. Some of those supposed turkeys even return from the past as essential cult films. Movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Pink Flamingos, or Showgirls never cease to astonish new generations of audience and filmmakers. There are bad movies. There are also underappreciated movies, and then there’s The Room (2003), directed, written, and starring a mysterious Count Dracula look-a-like with an odd accent: the infamous Tommy Wiseau.

Directed and written by James Franco, The Disaster Artist portrays the process of creating the so-called worst movie of all time while also delving into the life of Wiseau (James Franco) and his best friend, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), also the writer of the source material that inspired Franco’s movie. Sestero feels a deep admiration for Wiseau when the latter proves his (lack of) talent as a free-spirited, go-for-broke performer in an acting class in San Francisco.

Tommy and Greg build a strong friendship, which becomes the focus of the movie. The two hungry-to-be-famous aspiring actors promise to support each other in their mutual dream and decide to move together to Los Angeles to become stars, like their idol, James Dean. Yet Sestero doesn’t know the true age of Wiseau (who looks considerably older than Sestero), where he comes from (Wiseau insists he’s from Louisiana), and how he makes money (the two move into an apartment owned by Wiseau).

As mediocre actors, they failed miserably in Hollywood. After many rejections, the two decide to make a movie where they get the chance that others have denied them. Without having real knowledge about filmmaking, Wiseau writes his own script, a drama about human nature that tries to evoke the passion of a Tennessee Williams play. This is how The Room is born, to give Wiseau the opportunity to play the hero. He’s not just somebody seeking fame and fortune. He wants to be recognized as true artist. The best scene of the movie involves a touching response from Wiseau to the derision he receives from others, alleging that “I’m hero. And you are all villain. You all laugh, ‘HAHAHA’. That’s what villains do.”

The Disaster Artist never changes this perception that he lacks talent, but it adds layers of humanity within a hilarious comedy and a tender character study. It succeeds also as a vindication of James Franco as an artist, who offers the best performance of a career full of highs and lows. He’s an atypical Hollywood star whose ambitions do not always match successfully with his intentions.

Mediocre artists make terrible movies like The Room (not just a bad melodrama with unintentional laughs but a boring one, no matter what its cult status), but they also can be transformed into extremely appealing characters who become symbols of blindness about their abilities, and that’s why The Disaster Artist works. It’s unnecessary to know beforehand the story of Wiseau or The Room to enjoy it.

Laughs come easily in disastrous behind-the-scenes, nearly identical re-creations of The Room’s iconic scenes; from the audience’s reaction at the film’s premiere; and funny gags (Wiseau dancing to “The Rhythm of the Night” is a highlight). Franco doesn’t make ruthless fun of Wiseau. Instead the film offers an open discussion about tasteless art and the naivety of dreamers. If La La Land were the yin, The Disaster Artist is the yang. Sometimes the dreams are bigger than the dreamers. But to want something (and to have the resources to get it) will never be enough without proper talent.

The mix of mercy and humor about a fantasist with an unreachable goal is effective, but the real power of Franco’s film lies in the endearing portrait of the male friendship between Wiseau and Sestero. It’s almost a love story with a breakup and reconciliation. Let’s say it’s a legit bromance. Additionally, good movies about movies (even if it is about a bomb) remind us why we love this art form in the first place.

Directed by James Franco
Written by Scott Neustadter, and Michael H. Weber, based on the book by Greg Sestero with Tom Bissell
USA. 103 min. Rated R
With Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, and Alison Brie