Best F(r)iends Volume One is the first movie in 15 years from Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau, creators of cult classic The Room. The latter is so seminal in the culture of 21st century midnight-schlock that it’s questionable whether these two ever needed to make another movie. Or, in fact, could ever make another movie. The appeal of The Room is that it’s inept in every way; would their talents or relative lack thereof translate into a more traditional dramatic feature?
It has a higher production value than The Room and better distribution. (Thanks, Lionsgate!) For fans of The Room, it plays like an ode to the two men who made that movie, but it’s much more a spiritual sequel to The Disaster Artist — a capitalization on the 15 minutes of renewed fame brought by James Franco’s buddy-jam biopic. Sestero reportedly wrote the script in four days after seeing the biopic and feeling bad for Wiseau. What we get is a crime caper about a pretty man meeting an odd man and the fallout of their relationship. It’s OK, if you’re already a fan.
As such, Best F(r)iends Volume One doesn’t lean on making a fool out of Wiseau but rather gives him the “eccentric weirdo” role he’s so desperately needed. In The Room, he tried to play a romantic lead (haw haw). Here, he’s Harvey, a mortician with a dark past. He makes new faces for the facially disfigured dead. Jon (Sestero) is actually the main character, a homeless drifter who lost his family in a tragedy and who comes across Harvey in a back-alley — ingratiating himself into Harvey’s business and eventually launching a criminal enterprise selling the gold crowns they steal off corpses. It sounds a little morbid; in its best moments, it very much is. Wiseau’s a creepy character, and his lack of acting talent kind of bolsters the unreality of it all. If it was better shot, you might mistake it for an excised subplot in a ripoff of Twin Peaks: The Return.
You won’t, though, because despite being more competently made than The Room, Best F(r)iends Volume One doesn’t have a lot to offer outside of a few fun Wiseau scenes. The “Volume One” in the title references the fact that the movie just kind of ends. Resolution in the form of “Volume Two” will be released in early 2019, although early festival airings indicate the sequel has less Wiseau, more Sestero. The latter isn’t bad here by any means. He’s not an incompetent actor. But he doesn’t bring much more to a Lifetime movie story than a Lifetime movie performance, and the promise of him traveling across country (spoilers) pursued by Harvey is not especially compelling.
So it is not unwatchably bad, which is what I had expected it to be from these two. Re-creating The Room (or trying) would’ve been the easiest path and it’s admirable they tried something different. Not wholly different though; anyone who is at all familiar with their “meet cute” story of Sestero as a young man brought under the wing of eccentric mystery man Wiseau will recognize the outline of Best F(r)iends early on. When Harvey shows off his mysterious ATM machine full of cash, well, how is that not unlike the as-yet-unrevealed source of financing for The Room?
Maybe the real problem with Best F(r)iends Volume One is that it mostly feels inauthentic, when authenticity is the lifeblood of low-budget independent cinema. The Room, for what it’s worth, is an authentic expression. Wiseau is fun because he’s a poor actor who acts his heart out. Here, it’s a little hard to look past the mostly mediocre crime caper and really recommend it to anyone not already engaged in the culture of Wiseau and Sestero.