2017 AFI FILM FESTIVAL: It is the quintessential Hollywood story.

In June of 2003, a billboard popped up on Highland Ave. in Los Angeles. For five years, that billboard advertised a film called “The Room.” And over the course of those five years, that film quietly gained cult status among film fans. What started as an honest attempt at filmmaking become something of a joke. And then the eccentric filmmaker become a legend.

No one knows much about Tommy Wiseau. Even those closest to him don’t know where he’s from or how he had the means to finance “The Room.”

Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend, and co-star on “The Room,” attempted to contextualize the mystery with the 2013 memoir, “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.”

James Franco read that book, and thought about that strange billboard he had seen for years over on Highland Ave. And he knew he needed to adapt the story. Four years later, “The Disaster Artist” enjoyed its star-studded US premiere at AFI Fest in Los Angeles, just 3 miles from where “The Room” premiered in 2003.

The book was adapted by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the team behind “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now.”

James Franco directed the film, and stars as Tommy Wiseau. In fact, it is said that he directed the film AS Tommy Wiseau. Franco’s commitment to the film shines through every moment. What could easily have been a caricature, a mockery of Wiseau, instead becomes a tribute to him. Tommy Wiseau may be kind of weird, but Franco embraces him with care. Instead of limiting the story solely to Greg Sestero’s perspective, Wiseau gets his own moments. And Franco reminds the world that he is, in fact, an incredibly talented actor. Despite an Academy Award nomination for 2010’s “127 Hours,” his filmography is a strange hodgepodge that mostly consists of stoners and appearances as himself. His Wiseau is a welcome surprise.

Co-starring as Sestero is Franco’s brother, Dave Franco. Like his older brother, Dave’s filmography hasn’t exactly screamed Oscar Worthy. His roles in “21 Jump Street,” “Neighbors,” and “Superbad” have painted him as something of a one-note actor. But that all changes with “The Disaster Artist.” For fans of “The Room” who wonder why anyone would have agreed to work on such a strange film, Franco does a great job of showing Sestero’s internal and external struggles.

And that is what makes “The Disaster Artist” work so well. It is the performances, particularly from the Brothers Franco. Together, they light up the screen with every moment. Wiseau’s carefree attitude (“I just do it!”) is both an inspiration and eventually a source of frustration for Sestero. When introducing the film to a packed theater Sunday night, James said he knew his brother needed to play Greg. The two brought their brotherly bond to the brotherly friendship between Wiseau and Sestero.

The resulting film is mostly hilarious. But it also manages moments of unexpected emotion. And it handles both of these tones perfectly. This is exceptional filmmaking. It’s ironic that such a great film should be about the making of such a bad one.

So how does this translate to the awards conversation?

One of Hollywood’s favorite things is Hollywood. And this film gives it plenty of reasons to celebrate itself. With a who’s who of cameos and supporting performances wrapped up in a love letter to Los Angeles, this truly is the quintessential Hollywood story.

A man with dreams of making it big in Hollywood did exactly that. Not in the way he planned, but when does life ever go according to plan? “The Disaster Artist” combines the tale of achieving a dream with an attempt to explain one of the most mysterious figures in Hollywood. It does all of this with grace and respect.

And James Franco brings it all together perfectly. He is worthy of all the praise that is coming his way.

“The Disaster Artist” is being distributed in the US by A24. It will be in limited release on December 1 before expanding nationwide December 8.

GRADE: (★★★★)

You can also read Shane Slater’s TIFF Review here.

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “THE DISASTER ARTIST” ranks!

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
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