Directed by: Justin MacGregor Written by: Greg Sestero
In making his screenwriting debut, Greg Sestero had big shoes to fill. It’s hard to say what exactly those shoes are. Best F(r)iends essentially marks the return to the screen for Sestero and Tommy Wiseau since the pair acted in the latter’s self-written-directed cult hit The Room. The Room is often described as the greatest (most enjoyable) bad movie of all time. So what was Sestero obliged to accomplish with his debut? Was he to create his own bad-masterpiece, or was he to show he and Wiseau could create conventionally good cinema?
Sestero seemed aware of the contradictory standards he had to meet. As such he created an homage to The Room that is nonetheless different enough from the original that it doesn’t risk being dismissed as a less good sequel.
Best F(r)iends starts in a compelling, “indie” fashion. We meet Jon, (Sestero) a bearded homeless man covered in blood who experiments with using different signs to assist in his begging. Jon’s fortunes change when he meets Harvey (Wiseau) a mortician working in a not exactly luxurious funeral home. Harvey offers Jon a way out of poverty, but unable to believe his luck Jon becomes torn between pursuing his employment opportunity with Harvey and engaging in illicit activity.
The first part of Best F(r)iends thus has an undeniable eccentricity to it, while also maintaining an intertextual relationship with The Room. A small example of this is a scene in which Jon and Harvey play basketball, a reference to The Room’s football trope. This scene becomes more than mere homage, however, as it gives way to a beautiful aerial shot.
Best F(r)iends also has an intertextual relationship with The Disaster Artist, a book by Sestero that inspired a 2016 movie (disclaimer: my knowledge at this point is entirely based on the movie). One of the ideas that comes out in that film is Wiseau’s insistance that he can be a hero, while casting agents say his only hope in Hollywood is to be cast as a villain. Best F(r)iends in a way feels like The Room/The Disaster Artist from Sestero’s unique perspective. It sympathetically presents Wiseau as the fatherly philanthropist he sees himself as, while nonetheless casting him in a role more in line with his conventional Hollywood potential.
The film’s third major character, Traci (Kristen StephensonPino) makes reference to both The Room’s Lisa and The Disaster Artist’s Amber. Like the latter character, the Greg Sestero/Jon meets her while she’s working at a bar and they quickly form a relationship. This relationship, also echoing The Disaster Artist, becomes at odds with Sestero/Jon’s relationship with Wiseau/Harvey. Like other characters before her, Traci quotes The Room echoing Lisa’s line of “let’s ditch the creep,” though in a context quite distinct from the original line.
Just as Harvey is both very much like and markedly different from Johnny, Traci’s relationship to Lisa is also ambivalent. Lisa is The Room’s undeniable villain, yet the extent of her evil plot is cheating in order to avoid a loving but overbearingly traditionalist partner (leaving room for some to interpret The Room as a cryptically feminist film in which Lisa, not Johnny is to be understood as the hero). In writing Best F(r)iends Greg Sestero juggled, and perhaps was indecisive on whether he was paying homage to or improving upon Wiseau’s work. Thus in some ways Best F(r)iends duplicates the boys-club dynamic of The Room , but there are also times when it seems more aware of this problematic tone. Traci’s complexity as a character develops toward the end of the film in a way that intentionally subverts her original presentation.
Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero are both fans of vintage Hollywood cinema, with brief references to James Dean appearing in The Room and The Disaster Artist alike. While The Room channels Shakespeare and A Streetcar Named Desire through its passionate acting, Best F(r)iends appears to have been influenced by Double Indemnity, at least in so far as it’s a story that blurs the line between antagonists and protagonists. Unfortunately the film’s quality runs into one major roadblock. Its first act is a creative reimagining of the Tommy/Johnny—Greg/Mark relationship: whereas its second act focuses more on its crime-thriller element. The flow between these two kinds of stories isn’t quite natural: in fact it relies on a surprisingly forgiving decision by Harvey midway through the movie.
Maybe this will all make more sense when I see Volume II, or maybe the problem is that the film is broken into two volumes to begin with. Volume I ended up a tad over-extended and thus watered down. Regardless, Best F(r)iends is a must watch for The Room fans, and while no work will ever equal Wiseau’s unconventional masterpiece, the differences between the films renders the comparison unnecessary (and makes the similarities all the more enjoyable). Even non-fans of The Room can find a lot to enjoy here. Sestero is clearly a creative screenwriter, and I can only hope that he continues to work on content both related to and entirely separate from The Room.