Fifteen years after unleashing the best bad film ever made on an unsuspecting world, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero have returned to the big screen. Director Justin MacGregor brings the duo back for this surreal crime thriller that makes inspired use of their off-screen relationship and personas.

For those unfamiliar with these two, in 2003, Wiseau wrote, produced, directed and starred in The Room alongside Sestero—his friend and an up-and-coming actor. The Room is a truly awful film on every level: technically, artistically, and spiritually. Nearly every frame betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how filmmaking and human interaction works.

It quickly disappeared after its Los Angeles premiere, kept open in only one cinema by Wiseau’s mysteriously endless wealth, until word of mouth started to spread among purveyors of so-bad-its-good cinema. Fifteen years later, it’s one of the biggest cult films of our era, with showings still continuing in cities all around the world (including Perth).

That brings us to Best F(r)iends, an attempt at a real movie and an exploration of the star’s entwined history. Sestero plays Jon, a homeless drifter wandering around LA in a traumatised haze. He somehow comes into contact with Harvey (Wiseau), an eccentric mortician who takes him in as an assistant. Harvey makes latex masks of celebrities, ranging from Marlon Brando to Tupac, and puts them on the faces of deformed corpses so they can “look beautiful on their trip to paradise”. He also collects gold teeth from the bodies. Both of these things should give you an idea of how strange this character and movie is. Their unlikely friendship leads them to a business partnership selling the gold-teeth to shadowy underworld figures. Their relationship is put to the test by their newfound wealth, as well as Jon’s girlfriend, Traci, who disapproves of Harvey.

This description makes the film sound a lot more plot-driven than it actually is. It’s fairly slow-paced and shambling, focusing more on mood, texture, and moments rather than plot machinations. There’s montages over music, arty use of aspect ratio changes and black and white, and dreamlike detours. The creative team are not going for deliberate awfulness or self-parody—they want to make art. This style is not what I expected, and I’m not sure it always works in the story’s favour. Having said that, when it does work, it gives the film a captivatingly surreal mood reminiscent of David Lynch’s work. The more grounded, conversational scenes, however, are generally flat, shot in a basic, static manner that would barely pass muster in a student film, alleviated only by a few cursory dolly moves. The film is operating at a low budget for a crime saga of this scope, and unfortunately looks cheap at times as a result.

The script, written by Sestero, is largely based on his odd real-life friendship with Wiseau. Having read The Disaster Artist, Sestero’s excellent novel on the disastrous production of The Room (later adapted into a film starring James and Dave Franco, directed by the former), it’s clear that some elements of the plot are almost identical to their actual relationship—including, but not limited to, Sestero’s disapproving girlfriend, Wiseau’s mysterious background, a formative trip to Vegas, and the two’s shared yearning for acceptance. Seeing these two together on screen again is a magic all of its own. They make an appealing odd couple, with Sestero’s Hollywood good looks contrasting mightily with Wiseau’s vampiric strangeness. Their bond is a curious one, and I was surprised at how moved I was by some of their scenes together. The partnership starts to make a lot of sense through their interactions in the film; they both sense a shared outsider status, and a need for direction and acceptance in the other. The script also gets at the melancholy and darkness in Wiseau that Franco’s Disaster Artist tended to shy away from.

Perhaps the most fascinating blunder in The Room was giving Wiseau, one of the weirdest human beings on the planet, the role of a quintessential American everyman. MacGregor and Sestero wisely choose to embrace his idiosyncrasies, crafting an oddball character that leans into Wiseau’s strange humour, earnestness, and intense vulnerability without turning him into a joke. Harvey has a monologue, describing his desire to send the morgue’s corpses to “paradise’, that mirrors his infamous pronouncement in The Room (given in his thick Eastern European accent)that “if a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live”. Whereas that line came across as hopelessly over-earnest and completely at odds with the context of the scene—Wiseau’s character, Johnny, is saying this to his surrogate son, who has just confessed an attraction to Johnny’s fiancé—Harvey’s monologue is intriguing and organic to the story, feeling at once admirable, naive and creepy. Wiseau gives a genuinely good performance (yes, really), making Best F(r)iends a convincing argument for his potential as a character actor. And, unlike The Room, Wiseau’s funny scenes are mostly intentionally so.

This is a truly bizarre film; while intermittently moving and interesting, it’s also rough around the edges and rather self-indulgent. The surreal style of filmmaking used is an adventurous choice, at once alluring and exasperating. I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone not already in the cult of Wiseau—although I enjoyed it, I’m not sure if I could actually call it good. For all its strangeness, its messaging isn’t all that subtle, and its call-backs to The Room often felt distracting and forced. But for fans of these two, this should be a blast, and there’s some entertaining explorations of friendship, loneliness, loyalty, and betrayal in the mix.

This is only the first half of a two-part story, as revealed by the real title shown after a cliff-hanger ending: Best F(r)iends: Volume One. The second part is set to be released in Australia later this year. From the increasingly hallucinatory teaser footage shown at the end of this one, I’ll be interested to see where Macgregor and the duo take this peculiar tale next.

 

Best F(r)iends is in select cinemas now.

Read our interview with Greg Sestero here.

Read our review of the cinematic experience that is The Room here.