Tommy Wiseau, the legendary auteur of The Room, may not be a great filmmaker in the traditional sense, but he has a pretty enthused fanbase—a base of which I admit being a part of. And that fanbase, which has stuck with Wiseau through unusual projects like his 2015 Hulu series The Neighbors, has gotten a lot of mileage out of a single film that has owned the midnight movie circuit for years.
It hasn’t always been clear whether we’d see another monument to Wiseau’s generally unpredictable, often explosive screen presence in modern cinema. But with Best F(r)iends, a film that reunites him with his Room costar Greg Sestero, we may have found a path forward for Tommy Wiseau, the actor.
That’s thanks, in no small part, to the fact that Sestero wrote and coproduced the film based on his longtime friendship with Wiseau. If anyone’s going to get Tommy right, it’s Sestero, whose life and career has been colored by his intertwined history with the man who wrote The Room. (That friendship, of course, was at the center of The Disaster Artist, a hilarious film about The Room’s creation whose legacy was nonetheless complicated by the allegations leveled against its star, James Franco, after Franco won a Golden Globe for the role.)
The film is split in two parts, conceivably to maximize interest in the film, which is being exclusively shown through Fathom Events. While I’ve yet to see the second part, the first part of Best F(r)iends offers a lot of red meat, starting in a weirder place than The Room—Sestero plays Jon Kortina, a drifter who scores work from mortician Harvey Lewis (Wiseau), a guy with an odd sense of humor and a habit of collecting the metal dental fillings from the dead people who pass through.
Harvey comes into Jon’s life after taking a liking to the drifter’s pan-handling signs, and while the duo gets along, things get complicated after Jon decides to extract some financial value from those leftover fillings. Without giving too much away, the plot eventually draws parallels to the work of Tennessee Williams, if you get my drift.
The film is definitely better from a technical standpoint than The Room, replacing flat green screens with actual on-location shots. Director Justin MacGregor allows the camera to linger on scenery and its Southern California locale not unlike Wiseau’s repetitive shots of San Francisco, but the effect is played for atmosphere rather than laughs.
That said, the film clearly has a lot of moments of fan service strewn throughout, with scenes evoking the throwing of a football (a different, rounder ball is used, however), a decision involving facial hair, and lines that clearly exist to remind viewers of previously beloved lines.
But the real gift here is that Sestero’s film uses Wiseau in a way that doesn’t treat him like a joke, but an actor with a certain kooky talent that brings energy to any scene he’s in. If Wiseau wanted to fill out his career with a diversity of film roles directed by someone other than himself, this is a path forward. Given the right script, as he is here, he can carry a film with the kind of eccentric energy seen in stars like Christopher Walken and Crispin Glover.
But Tommy is still Tommy, and you will never change that. (Example: My wife suggested that the platform shoes that Harvey wears might be a clear attempt by Wiseau to look as tall as Sestero on screen.) As a credit to the filmmakers, they don’t try to change Tommy, but left the man do what he does best. By contrast Sestero, a more traditional acting talent, is willing to get weird in his role.
One gets the feeling that once the Fathom Events deal runs out, Wiseau will be trying to sell this on the midnight-movie circuit, just like The Room. It’s too soon whether to know if it’ll work there—the second part of the film seems to go into more surrealistic territory—but the fact is, the first part of Best F(r)iends is a worthy addition to the onscreen history of both Wiseau and Sestero.
Welcome back, Tommy. You’ve been missed.