By: Steve Pulaski
In many ways, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero deserve the high they've been on for the better part of this decade. Wiseau's film, The Room, has endured a cult following the likes of which many other filmmakers could only dream to have, with midnight screenings and Q&As popping up all over America to commemorate a job poorly done. Paradoxically, had Wiseau and Sestero actually achieved the much harder feat of making a good film, their work probably wouldn't have sustained the kind of success it has gone on to enjoy, including a recent surge in popularity thanks to last year's uniformly well-made, James Franco-directed biopic, The Disaster Artist.
The duo's next film, directed by Justin MacGregor, shows what happens after a modern-day "disasterpiece" gets hailed as one of the best "so bad it's good" films of a generation: the swell of egos. The kind of confidence that allows you to know without even questioning that no matter how badly conceived or perplexing your next move is, the core fanbase you've amassed will eat it up. They'll even trust your "wisdom" insofar as to show up not just once but twice to separate screenings to see your latest project, which is unjustifiably split into two parts. This is the level of fame and comfort you want; the total confidence in your base that your work, clouded in mystery yet revealing in its incompetence, is worthy of attention beyond what they'd give an abysmal soap-opera.
Best F(r)iends: Volume One is a bad film, yet it doesn't even care that it sucks. It's essentially a remake of The Room with the same eccentric character, the same absurd lines — only this time, you get the sense Sestero, who serves as the film's writer, was actually going for an audience reaction — and the array of questionable scenes. This time around, however, there is some effort put into the direction. MacGregor, whose previous short film, The Founder Effect, curiously uses the same style/typeface as both posters for this particular project, at least demonstrates conscious effort to make this project look visually distinct. Its cinematography (done with the help of Farhan Umedaly) is intriguing ambient, if sometimes nauseatingly so. Often times it'd be nice if we could appreciate the landscapes for what they were and how they were captured, although quite often we're subjected to downright awful industrial and techno-music. It's as if Wiseau and company were too worried they might actually achieve the impossible and make a fairly decent film and ruin their (lack of) credibility.
The film opens by showing Jon (Sestero), a drifter wandering the streets of southern California in a bloody T-shirt and no money. He is taken in by Harvey (Wiseau), a peculiar mortician who is probably related to Tommy from The Room given his same tendency to spout clunky dialog and loan terrible advice. Nonetheless, Harvey lives by his personal mantra of making people experience paradise, especially when they're dead; he creates masks of the oft disfigured faces of the corpses he's given in order to assure they greet such a place looking their best. Harvey keeps the teeth of all his patients, who, given his immense collection, apparently have gold/gold-plated molars. When Jon discovers the price of gold is rapidly rising, he steals some of Harvey's teeth-collection and earns quick cash from a local dentist.
Overwhelmed with guilt, especially since Harvey was so kind to take him in, Jon comes clean to the morbid "specialist," who is initially angry but proceeds to go along with the get-rich-quick plan. The two sell Harvey's collection of teeth on the black-market and earn north of $2 million, stashing the bundles of Benjamin's in an ATM locked away in a shed. Harvey is perfectly content with keeping this up so long as he is the sole controller of the money. However, it's when Jon is trying to get his own apartment for him and his new girlfriend, Traci (Kristen Stephenson Pino), and sees his business-partner shelling out $80,000 for a vintage cruiser that he gets angry about his idea being exploited. In response, Jon and Traci hatch a plan that, if carried out effectively, would assure they come out on top.
This is a story capable of being contained in a 120-minute feature, yet MacGregor, Wiseau, and Sestero decided in a bizarre (money-related) move that Best F(r)iends would be best suited as a two-part venture. Because of this, there are many sequences involving characters aimlessly walking the streets, purposefully padding out their dialog, and taking an extra couple seconds to respond to one another as if the entire cast scarfed down a few Ambien before shooting commenced. These mind-numbing inclusions manifest into a film that looks and feels inert, with scenes kissed with a dreamy fog that might cause you to, if only for a moment, assume you've experienced a fever-dream by the time the credits roll. Of course, this is assuming you didn't already fall unconscious thanks to the film's groggy pace.
As with several purposefully bad films, they're liable to squeeze a few laughs out of you on occasion. I'll admit I found stray lines of Wiseau's dialog and complimenting delivery chuckle-inducing, partly because their absurdity worked and also due to the fact that almost every line he utters echoes one of the two or three tones-of-voice he employed in The Room. Familiarity and mileage are the two keys to your enjoyment of Best F(r)iends. If you know Wiseau, the mysterious aura that surrounds him, and his eccentric personality, you'll likely find some humor in the man essentially playing himself once again. The frequency of your laughter will depend on how much you can stomach the man himself.
"Volume Two" could drastically change my mind, and I suppose I'll hold out for it like many others, but Best F(r)iends, as it presently stands, is a hackneyed work. A man whose name carries weight thanks to it being harnessed on one of the strangest cinematic oddities of the century, Wiseau is a man at an almost indestructible position. As long as he doesn't alienate his fans or sell-out in a noticeable way, he'll enjoy this microcosm that allows him to produce poor projects without any kind of meaningful critical repercussion. His entire story is a fascinating tale of how far and wide the concept of the American Dream can stretch, and in this case, just how far a lame idea can go.
NOTE: Review of Volume Two coming June 1st, 2018.