There is no way anybody could have forecasted the eventual success of The Room. Well, maybe Tommy Wiseau did, but you can be sure it did not come in the way he expected. Fifteen years later, an Academy Award nominated film has been made in its honor, and fans still gather year-round to launch spoons during midnight screenings. Now we have Best F(r)iends, a sure response to The Disaster Artist’s triumph, which brings Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero back onto the screen for the first time since The Room.
The Room was crafted with a total lack of self-awareness, a key element to most good bad movies. But the joke Best F(r)iends is relying on here has already been told, and with Franco’s real Hollywood movie, everyone is in on it. In this way, Best F(r)iends faces the difficult challenge all “disasterpiece” sequels face: recreating a fortunate accident. And the only way to possibly re-erect unintentional appeal is to have observed it both up close, and from a step or two away.
No, Tommy did not write, nor did he direct this movie, but Greg Sestero, the Mark from “oh, hai Mark,” and whose bestselling book brought readers into the madcap production of The Room, has proven himself to be the best man for the job. His script capitalizes on Tommy’s “distinctive” personality without trying to be The Room 2, taking the best parts of the 2003 mishit and bringing them into a new light.
The story is said to have been inspired by real events – which I can’t imagine being true for anybody other than Wiseau – and follows Jon (Sestero), a down on his luck drifter. At the beginning of the film, he walks the streets of Los Angeles in drab, wielding cardboard pleas of humorous creativity (“Time traveler stranded. Need $ for plutonium.”). One of these begs – “Family kidnapped by ninjas. Need $ 4 karate lessons” – attracts the attention and sympathy of Harvey Lewis (Wiseau), an independent mortician who offers Jon a position at his morgue.
Supposedly to the dismay of government officials and “corporate spies,” he creates death masks so people can have an open casket funeral, and he’s actually pretty good at it. Jon, after being given a mask of his own likeness, calls what Harvey does art. Harvey calls it “paradise;” his goal, as he says, is to make people happy, “especially when they die.”
His first night on the job, Jon discovers that the mortician holds onto the gold pieces he takes off of the corpses, primarily the gold teeth. Though officials come to collect the dental shards, Harvey has a little “stash” he keeps for himself. Actually, he has tons of it – crates labeled “mouth stuff” fill up a storage room – and after Jon steals and sells some of the scrap one night, he realizes that its monetary value is increasing, and he and Harvey form a partnership dealing it out in the black market.
Why Tommy’s character was so adamant about collecting and not selling these gold teeth is beyond me – perhaps it’s another fetish, like the red dress thing – but whatever sentiment he had towards the shiny teeth is quickly tossed out the window once those Benjamins come flooding in. In fact, both Jon and Harvey begin seeing things differently when they start making a profit, leaving room for character development that, while unexpected, fits into the somewhat professional project.
Throw in a love interest with an outsider’s perspective on the arrangement, and now paranoia, greed, and deceit are also in the mix. This is quite a step up from tape recorders and footballs – though a small sequence of Jon and Harvey playing basketball suggests that Wiseau’s athletic abilities have not improved in the past 15 years.
But Tommy handles this step up well. Or perhaps, Sestero handles Tommy well enough to make it seem so. Greg proved in his memoir that he knew this conspicuously mysterious man better than anybody, and also that he could put that knowledge onto paper. He does so here, creating this totally peculiar character in Harvey who is half-Wiseau and half-Sistero’s years-in-the-making impression of Wiseau. There are moments, especially as the relationship begins to deteriorate, that feel like they could have been taken out of Greg’s diary, but getting a glimpse into what may be the most unconventional and genuine friendships in the industry is this film’s greatest appeal.
Tommy predicted that after watching Best F(r)iends, viewers would want to strip down naked on the beach. I had fun, but I wouldn’t say that is true in my case. However, for the right audience, and they know who they are, it will be.
While it doesn't top the eccentricity of Wiseau’s cult favorite, Best F(r)iends is written by a man who understands, probably more than anybody, the appeal behind The Room’s creator, and directed by another man who understands not to mess with that connection and whatever ideas come spewing from it.