ON IN CINEMAS
Best F(r)iends: Volume One (2017) starring Greg Sestero & Tommy Wiseau
The gold business
As the name suggests, this is the first instalment of a two-part film. A Los Angeles vagrant named Jon (Greg Sestero) is taken in by Harvey Lewis (Tommy Wiseau), a rather strange mortician whose main passion lies in crafting immaculate face masks for disfigured corpses. While Jon carries out various odd jobs around the mortuary, he happens upon his new employer’s stash of gold dental scraps in the storeroom. He decides to sell some of them to a shady contact behind his back, thus netting himself a sizeable wad of dollars in the process.
Sometime later, he makes a guilt-wracked confession to Harvey about his dishonest actions. While the latter is initially angry, Jon manages to persuade him that selling the remainder of the scraps could solve all of their monetary issues. However, their partnership soon develops an increasing level of friction due to two issues. Firstly, Jon starts a relationship with a hot barmaid named Traci (Kristen StephensonPino) after mentioning that he is in, in his own vague words, “the gold business”. However, Harvey doesn’t trust her intentions. Secondly, Harvey keeps withholding Jon’s share of the cash - and it soon becomes clear that he is appropriating it to pay off a mysterious figure named Malmö (Paul Scheer).
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The Wiseau-Sestero phenomenon
What started out as one of the worst movies ever made has become a one-of-a-kind cult phenomenon. The Room (2003) was a vanity project for Tommy Wiseau, a strange eccentric who clearly didn’t know the first thing about either acting or filmmaking when he decided to make it. The result was a mess of diabolical performances, bafflingly illogical exchanges of dialogue and endlessly repetitive scenes attempting to pad out a wafer-thin plot. Most of all, Wiseau’s strange appearance, accent and rampant overacting left viewers sitting there, jaw agape, wondering who the hell he was, what he was on and where he came from.
After the hysterical audience reactions, it’s a wonder that Wiseau didn’t go into hiding and keep well away from anything to do with the film business from then on. On the contrary, however, he decided to make lemonade out of lemons and actively marketed it as a true so-bad-it’s good accidental classic, even turning up at screenings for Q & A sessions. The movie became well known for its Rocky Horror Picture Show-style audience participation rituals such as throwing plastic spoons at the screen every time the same endlessly-reused picture of a spoon appeared in a scene.
The phenomenon only steamrollered on as James Franco (alongside brother Dave) starred in and directed last year’s biopic The Disaster Artist, an account of the real-life friendship between Wiseau and his co-star from The Room, Greg Sestero. It was based on Sestero’s own autobiography. From within this peculiar cult bubble, we now reach Best F(r)iends: Volume One. It’s a very strange film which is best viewed within its own context, especially considering that it is clearly highly self-aware of the following around Wiseau and Sestero. As with The Disaster Artist, the story (written by Sestero) derives from the real-life relationship between the two, albeit this time shaped into a fictional crime drama. It also gives Wiseau a chance to exhume his peculiar tics from The Room for the amusement of a dedicated audience craving more of the same in(s)anity.
One for the fans
Evaluating Best F(r)iends: Volume One critically is both a difficult and frankly near-pointless exercise since the dedicated coterie of fans are going to lap it up regardless. In certain aspects, it appears to be going for the “deliberately bad movie” angle with its terrible performances and inappropriate music. Unlike The Room, however, there’s a certain sharp wit to a number of scenes which clearly tips off the fact that it’s purposefully trashy - a classic example being the various absurd cardboard signs which Sestero’s character holds up while begging on the streets during the wordless opening scenes. At other points, it seems to be trying to be (and, occasionally, almost succeeds in being) a legitimately good film, as per The Disaster Artist. There’s a genuine artfulness to some of the montages which director Justin MacGregor places between the dialogue exchanges, such as when the duo go on a neon- and firework-illuminated trip to Las Vegas.
It’s a true Frankenstein’s monster which doesn’t quite know how to place itself within this whole Sestero-Wiseau continuum. However, that’s not to say that devotees won’t derive enjoyment from it. The highlights, of course, come courtesy of Wiseau, who here swaps his suits from The Room for thick-rimmed glasses and an array of designer jackets. We get the fan-pleasing stuff from his previous film recycled in a different form: all of the larger-than-life behaviour which veers from well-meaning generosity to delusional egomania, all of the evident difficulties that the guy has with grasping the finer nuances of the English language, all of the overblown tantrums and even a homage to his habit of addressing people entering the scene with the immortal catchphrase “Hi —insert character’s name—”.
Unfortunately, there are too many scenes which focus on the less (intentionally or otherwise) entertaining Sestero. He isn’t a comedically terrible actor, just a blandly mediocre one - albeit considerably more blessed in the looks department than withered Wiseau. Kristen StephensonPino (yes, that’s how her name is credited) is pretty much the female equivalent of Sestero as his love interest. There isn’t much of a plot here either. Well ok, so there is a bit more here than there was in The Room but, then again, even the average episode of The Magic Roundabout has more of a storyline than that film does.
Even so, the Best F(r)iends: Volume One’s peculiar end (a parodic variant of that overblown and overused “nightmare where the protagonist imagines a dead character has come back to life” trope) left me curious as to what craziness Volume Two might contain.
Runtime: 99 mins
Dir: Justin MacGregor
Script: Greg Sestero
Starring: Greg Sestero, Tommy Wiseau, Kristen StephensonPino, Vince Jolivette, Paul Scheer, Rick Edwards