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What makes James Franco’s performance in “The Disaster Artist” so exceptional is that he went so far beyond the humor in his funny character.

He also embraced the heart of the man who may have made the best bad movie ever.

It’s simple to poke fun at Tommy Wiseau, director of “The Room,” whether it be his Polish accent that he claims is Cajun, or his random outbursts.

Or his giant mane of black hair, or his predilection for wearing several belts at a time or a set of keys that would make a janitor jealous.

Franco adopts all of these things, and he will make you laugh repeatedly in doing so.

But he also adopted the mannerisms of Wiseau (rhymes with Rizzo), his vocal rhythms and physical appearance to a degree that had me asking more than once: Is that really James Franco? He goes that deep.

But the magic happens because Franco finds an affection for Tommy that is the same as cult-movie fans have found for “The Room,” the 2003 picture that is so unintentionally hilarious that it fills midnight-movie auditoriums across the country.

If “The Room” is the “Citizen Kane of bad movies,” as it has notoriously been tagged, then “The Disaster Artist,” the story of the making of that film, is the shaggy-dog redemption story that it deserves.

And it is intentionally hilarious so often because Franco, as director, is also the maker of this film, and he has taken the job of making a good movie about a bad movie very seriously.

It would be easy to chalk “The Disaster Artist” up as a lark, but it’s more than that.

There is pure passion here, among the entire cast, as if these actors have a fascination with “What must it have been like to be on that crazy set?”

The exceptional script by the writers of “(500) Days of Summer” is based on the book by Greg Sestero, who was on that set because he was Tommy’s sometimes-best friend and co-star, which forms the backbone of this story.

And who better to cast — to create a friendship that was so close and also drove each other a little crazy — than Dave Franco, the director’s brother.

To see this pair arrive in Los Angeles to pursue their dream of acting stardom (“Pinkie swear on it!” Tommy exclaims) is a hoot of disillusionment.

Watching their awful auditions leaves casting directors asking the same questions we are: Where is this guy’s accent from? How old is this guy who won’t tell us? Is Tommy Wiseau even his real name?

And where is all this guy’s money coming from?

The mystery is part of what makes the film so intriguing and apparently these questions, 15 years later, still do not have definitive answers — only a dude who tells his best buddy, with that curious accent: “We no jobs. We make own movie.”

Tommy’s film, “The Room,” is a semi-autobiographical drama marred by bad decisions, petty jealousies and amateurish acting.

It all adds up to historic badness but in a good way.

There’s hilarity, there’s real closeness between lunkheads chasing an impossible dream, and there’s a bad movie to make, and the deep background of these guys’ lives and quirks make that production’s mistakes all the more amusing.

Seth Rogen, playing the on-set script supervisor with little to do because everything is done Tommy’s way, is so natural playing off the Francos, as he’s done in multiple films, that he is effortlessly riotous.

Another highlight comes in multiple cameos that have standout moments, like Zac Efron as an obscure character from the movie-within-the-movie (don’t blink or you’ll miss him) and Megan Mullally as Greg’s mom, afraid her son is being taken to Hollywood by a madman.

Tommy would probably say, “Mad like crazy genius,” or something like that in broken English.

He is the true “Disaster Artist,” with James Franco to thank for showing us Tommy’s humanity, his eccentricities and his enigmatic nature.

And the heart of an outsider with crazy dreams that have, in a crazy way, come true.

Michael Smith

918-581-8479

michael.smith@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @michaelsmithTW

This article originally ran on tulsaworld.com.

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