**A brief disclaimer: This piece was originally written shortly after my screening of Best F(r)iends: Volume 2, but was postponed for two very good reasons. The first is a nightmarish sequence of scheduling conflicts that directly resulted in the second; I forgot about it. It sat in my saved drafts folder until just recently, when somehow I was reminded of its existence and decided to finally complete, edit, and publish it. I realize that this is the polar opposite of timeliness, but as the saying goes: better late than never.**
Rating: I’m not sure what’s going on anymore.
When I reviewed Best F(r)iends: Volume One, I said that the experience oscillated between delightfully quirky and head-scratchingly boring, but that the bizarreness of the overall package combined with Tommy Wiseau’s unique acting methodology was more than enough to make the experience satisfying. By and large, the same is absolutely true of Volume 2, just to a somewhat lesser degree. This is due almost entirely to the disappointing absence of Wiseau’s Harvey for much of the runtime.
Removing this particular character from much of the proceedings is problematic, mostly because he is emblematic of the Best F(r)iends mantra: when it’s weird, it works. And to be fair, Volume 2 does bring the weird. Are you ready for a hotel clerk who talks as if he may never have seen another human being before? How about the most foul-mouthed denim-clad cowboy in cinema history? Could I interest you in Tommy Wiseau wearing a giant, medieval bucket helmet?
The issue this time around is that rather than watching a unique, goofy story unfold while basking in the dynamic between Wiseau and Sesterro and enjoying the occasional psychedelic sequence, you’ll be watching some far less fun people walking around the desert. The story is essentially the third act of any thriller, broken up by flash-forward scenes for seemingly no other reason than to include Tommy Wiseau. Naturally, these are some of the best moments in the film. The rest of the time, unfortunately, there’s just not a whole lot going on.
All of this speaks to the larger structural fault at the heart of the project: why did this need to be two separate movies? Aside from the teaser for Volume 2 shown at the end of Volume 1′s screening (which is objectively the best trailer ever created), there’s just shy of no reason for the split. There is nowhere near enough story to occupy nearly four hours, and just editing the film down would have resolved the pacing issues plaguing both parts.
Despite these annoyances, it’s remarkably difficult not to have a damn good time watching Best F(r)einds. Its zany, funny, charming, and feels as if it were made for little reason other than to have a bit of fun. Adding to this sense is the feeling that, excluding the pacing issues and the unnecessary division of the story, a great number of the film’s “flaws” feel strangely purposeful. So much of the camera work surpasses competence and enters the range of artistic, and there are some seriously impressive crane and aerial shots scattered throughout. At the same time, there are some amateur, student film-esque shots, and some truly horrid audio issues.
These factors seem to have no business existing within the same film, and yet they do. But the question remains; if they were purposeful, then what was the purpose?
And so, I receded into the dark caverns of my own mind, setting up a metaphorical corkboard covered in pictures and hastily written notes connected by red twine. What could possibly be the rationale behind intentionally making your film feel so at odds with itself? What was the motive?
Eventually, I came up with something, and if I’m right, then Best F(r)iends may actually be secretly brilliant. Of course, it’s at least just as likely that I’m not-so-secretly stupid. This is all speculation and very likely a case of me reading too far into nonexistent subtext, but here goes. There will be some spoilers for the story of both volumes below, so if you’re sensitive to that, I would suggest perhaps directing your attention to something else.
Best F(r)iends seems to be the result of combining a heavily, heavily fictionalized version of Sestero and Wiseau’s relationship with a satire of what one might expect from the cinematic reunion of the two actors and a follow-up to The Room. Reading through The Disaster Artist makes a few things immediately evident.
One: that Tommy Wiseau is so much more than a punch-line. He’s a determined, passionate, and entirely unrestrained dreamer who never took no for an answer (even when perhaps he should have).
Two: that Greg Sesterro was inspired by Tommy’s indomitability, and frequently angered by his neediness and erraticism. Even so, Sesterro sees Tommy as a powerful symbol and someone who proves, simply through the act of existing, that anything is possible. Through the lens of the book, he is someone who challenges the traditional conception of what art and artists are.
Three: The relationship between these two men was complicated, frequently contentious, occasionally toxic, but ultimately beautifully rewarding.
Four: Sesterro is clearly capable of writing layered, nuanced concepts into enjoyable, funny packages.
Taking the above understandings into consideration, much of Best F(r)iends’ story begins to make sense. I’ll spare you all of the details, as they’ve already been written with far more eloquence than I could hope to replicate by Greg Sesterro and Tom Bissell. Instead, I’ll list out several similarities between the real world and the fictional one that, if coincidental, are suspiciously convenient.
- Tommy did, in fact, rent Greg Sesterro his apartment in L.A. for an absurdly low rate so that he could chase his dream of becoming an actor. This mirrors the conclusion of Volume 2, wherein Harvey had been squirreling away money to purchase John a house for the duration of the previous film because he knew that was his dream; to have his own little slice of home.
- In both The Disaster Artist and Best F(r)iends, Tommy/Harvey and Greg/John clash over that latter’s romantic relationships.
- Tommy and Greg did take a road trip in the real world, although it was not to Vegas as in Best F(r)iends.
- Harvey’s office is decorated with pictures of famous actors, including James Dean. Dean was an idol to both Wiseau and Sesterro during their early days.
- The mask that Harvey makes of Sesterro may be a subtle nod to Wiseau’s nickname for Sesterro: Babyface. It may also allude to some of his jealousy over Greg’s more traditional “Hollywood” appearance when compared to himself.
- As resentment began to rise between Sesterro and Wiseau, Wiseau began to steadily increase the rent he was charging Greg. This may be reflected in the idea that John thinks Harvey is trying to screw him out of his money.
- Towards the end of The Disaster Artist, Tommy more or less disappears, and it is implied that he may have been a very dark place mentally and emotionally. This occurred following, among other things, a fairly severe falling out with Sesterro. I posit that, in the most lighthearted manner possible, this is represented by the altercation between Harvey and John that sends him plummeting off a cliff, seemingly to his death.
And now, to fully jump the shark, I would like to suggest two more subtextual allusions, both of which make Best F(r)iends into a touching ode to both Wiseau and Sesterro’s unconventional roads to success, and to a friendship that endured far more than anybody could have predicted.
The first is that the house Harvey purchases for John at the end of the film signifies not only the apartment in L.A. but also The Room itself. In Best F(r)iends, John’s dream was to have a place to call home. By working alongside Tommy, he eventually found exactly that. It may have come directly on the heels of an experience he felt was damaging and exploitative, and yet it turned into the fruition of his deepest desire.
Similarly, even though it was a physically and emotionally straining experience in nearly every way, The Room allowed Greg Sesterro to achieve their dreams. They are both widely recognizable, and widely loved, actors, writers, producers, and entertainers. Millions of people show up to midnight screenings all over the world of a movie that few thought would ever be finished, let alone seen by a single living being.
The second is the idea that the road trip referred to by both Sesterro and Wiseau as the inspiration for the film is not a literal trip, but rather their friendship.
To begin with, it clears up the rocky progression of the character’s interactions. John winds up in the city confused, lost, and alone. He meets an incredibly bizarre but well-intentioned mortician named Harvey who helps him back on his feet and eventually aids him in finding some direction.
They grow closer, traveling, and sharing interests and hopes. John opens up about his mother’s death, and Harvey lets John into his life and shows him the things he’s passionate about. Meanwhile, resentment begins to build between the two. Harvey isn’t a fan of John’s new girlfriend, and John begins to suspect that Harvey is trying to screw him out of the money that they’d made together.
Eventually, everything comes to a head, and Harvey falls off a cliff, seemingly to his death. It turns out, though, that Harvey’s only intention all along was to surprise his best friend with a new home. It’s a simple story, but it’s packed to the gills with references to Sesterro and Wiseau’s relationship before the filming of The Room. When Greg Sesterro met Tommy Wiseau, it was in an acting class in San Francisco. A young man with little more on his resume than some modeling, Sesterro knew he wanted to be an actor, but didn’t know how, or even if he could. It certainly didn’t help that his family was skeptical of the endeavor, and wanted a more traditional path for their son.
In Tommy Wiseau, Greg saw a man who was completely unafraid to be exactly who he was, and would butcher Shakespeare and Williams alike, but walk away proud of his intensity. As their friendship grew, this became an immense source of inspiration in his career going forward. When you’re next to a man for whom nothing in the world is unreasonable, moving to L.A. to pursue an acting career with no connections or leads must seem almost a practicality.
In the following years, Sesterro and Wiseau phased in and out of friendship, were occasional roommates, and struggled with crippling jealousy. At one point, Wiseau entered such a deep, debilitating depression that Greg feared for his life while enduring months of silence. There were times when each man acted as an inspiration to the other, and times when they were far more akin to enemies than anything remotely friendly.
As I mentioned above, all of this is reflected in Best F(r)iends. John’s confusion is Greg’s confusion. Harvey’s oddball nature is Wiseau’s. The help John receives from Harvey is the gateway and direction that Wiseau gave to Sesterro during his first forays into the acting world. The antagonism and hostility between Harvey and John explains itself. It’s even possible that Harvey’s fall from the cliff and eventual return is meant to depict Wiseau’s struggles with depression and suicide.
Now, It’s also entirely possible that I’m reading way too far into this, and Best F(r)iends was just meant to be a silly way to make something with a friend. Still, though, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It could just be wishful thinking, but I suspect that this project was a lot more personal than originally thought.
Maybe it was a way for Wiseau and Sesterro to use the medium they both love to exorcise the demons of their past while proving to the world that, while they love it, they are capable of more than The Room. Or, maybe it’s just a fun movie about foul-mouthed denim cowboys and Tommy Wiseau dressing up like a character from Dark Souls. Either way, both Volume 1 and 2 are well worth your time, and might just offer a little bit more than meets the eye.