You ever met that guy, at a party or wherever, who you see before you hear him, loudly (and perfectly!) quoting from some not-very-well-known movie? And maybe you think to yourself "oh, this guy gets it", and you drift over to chat for a bit about how much you both love that movie, and it feels like you've made a new best friend. Except that it only takes maybe five or ten minutes to realise that he doesn't actually have any sense of humor, or any other frames of reference than the movies he loves: he's just really good at copying something he saw onscreen, and now you're trapped with some shithead who won't stop quoting the "Knights Who Say Ni" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail for hours on end.

Well, The Disaster Artist is the movie version of that guy. This is the story of how inscrutable probably-European maybe-billionaire Tommy Wiseau, a wannabe actor of not merely "no talent", but some kind of awesome anti-talent, which couples a complete inability to project normal human feelings with an apparent inability to comprehend that other people are sapient beings with inner lives, got so fed up with the world telling him "no", that he decided to his his endless wealth to make a movie. A movie written, directed, and produced by himself, starring himself, as a handsome playboy beloved by everyone but his treacherous fiancΓ©. That movie was 2003's magnificently horrible The Room, and if you are the kind of person who would enjoy watching it, you certainly don't need me to tell you anything about it.

So here is the best case scenario: director-star James Franco, and screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, might have made a new version of the 1994 film Ed Wood. That too was a biopic of a man best known for the bottomless lack of talent he brought to his filmmaking, coupled with his pie-eyed certainty that he was making beautiful & true works of art that would inspire the world. Sadly, The Disaster Artist falls very, very, very far short of Ed Wood, a movie shot through with the melancholic understanding that its lovable protagonist really was a godawful filmmaker and a colossal idiot; a character study first and a celebration of cheesy movies only second. The Disaster Artist might honestly think that it's a character study, I can't quite tell. It is, at any rate, a very trivial and insubstantial one. I would accuse it of painting too neat a picture of Wiseau based on what we know of him from Greg Sestero's book The Disaster Artist and other public appearances, but we needn't even go that far: the film paints too neat a picture of Wiseau based just on what information is presented within the 104-minute confines of the movie itself.

The film's version of this story goes basically like this: in San Francisco, in 1998, 19-year-old Sestero (Dave Franco) is making pocket change as a model while taking acting classes. He's too stiff and nervous to make an impression on anybody, but one of his fellow classmates is the baffling Tommy (James Franco), whose wildly out-of-control rendition of something that might possibly be a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire - it involves screaming "Stella" like a foghorn, anyway - impresses Greg for it fearlessness. Whatever enthusiastic anti-charisma Tommy possesses sucks Greg in, and before very long they're living together in Los Angeles, in Tommy's second apartment. Encouraged by his young friend's blind support, Tommy decides to write a film for himself to direct and star in, to give the both of them an opportunity to show the world their value.

So, "follow your dreams" and "believe in your friends" puffery. In the story of how Tommy Wiseau made The Room. That's bad on the facts, for sure, but it's also bad based purely on what we see of Franco's Wiseau in Franco's movie. Wiseau is a an abusive stalker and peerless emotional manipulator, and he makes Greg's life awful both personally and professionally; that's just on how The Disaster Artist portrays him. Making the switch from that to "sweet goofball optimist who just wanted to make the world a better place" would be a tall order for any filmmaker, and Franco, bless his heart, isn't much of a filmmaker in the first place (for all its deficiencies, The Disaster Artist is his best work as director I've seen). The film doesn't even seem to be aware that it has a tone to be deaf about.

Because, anyway, The Disaster Artist doesn't actually give a shit about being a character piece, no matter how much time it spends feinting in that direction. The real theme of the movie is that James Franco and his buddies love The Room a lot, and had a lot of fun re-creating bits and pieces of it. Hell, maybe that's still to generous: maybe this is just a movie about how James Franco had a pretty darn good Tommy Wiseau impression (though he lacks Wiseau's puffiness and wrinkles, he still manages to put something across of the middle-aged sag of his subject, and his voice is spot-on), and he wanted to have someplace to show it off. At any rate, the film has no interest in much of anything outside of finding moderately famous people who look a lot like the cast of The Room (including Jacki Weaver, Zac Efton, and a never-better Josh Hutcherson, I don't know if Ari Graynor is moderately famous or not, but she looks uncannily like Juliette Danielle) and letting them stand around gaping as Franco throws himself around sets, delivering lines in Wiseau's mumbling, gasping cadence.

It's amusing, in its own way, though it should be no surprise that the most amusing material lies elsewhere, largely in the shocked bafflement of the crew, led by script supervisor Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen, who I suppose gives the "best" performance in the film, discounting Sharon Stone's exemplary cameo as a talent agent). After all, that's not just taking its humor secondhand from The Room. Amusing or not, though,Β The Disaster Artist has no sights higher than "We all love The Room, and let us all love it together", which hardly seems worth the effort of making an entire feature-length film about it. Particularly when that love specifically gets in the way of making the hard choices and sharp insights that could have turned this into a worthy examination of Wiseau as the human being who somehow made the profoundly inhuman The Room. But that would require attenuating one's treatment of Wiseau as a big soppy goofball, and my God, we daren't give up on our fun impression to let things like psychological insight get in way, dare we?