Tommy Wiseau is an anomaly. He has no business being anywhere near a camera, let alone in front of one. His disastrous, yet beloved 2003 film The Room became a cult hit and is often screened at midnight in art house cinemas all over the world. Wiseau directed, produced, wrote and starred in the flick. The film transformed how audiences watch bad films by turning an outing into an essential group activity, complete with call and response, sing-a-longs, cheering and a symphony of plastic spoons hailing down from above.
So what happens when Wiseau returns to his first lead acting gig in 15 years? Shlock obviously, but a kind of crime-noir shlock. Best F(r)iends is written and produced by Greg Sestero, best known as Mark from The Room, but he also gets some credit for writing the tell-all book The Disaster Artist (which was later adapted into the James Franco’s award-winning 2017 film).
The film opens with Jon (Sestero), sporting a potentially fake beard, waking from a nightmare under a bridge in Los Angeles. Jon is a mute drifter, wandering the streets asking for money. Harvey (Wiseau) is a lonely mortician with a white hearse and an affinity for platform shoes who befriends Jon and offers him a job. Wiseau’s opening line in Best F(r)iends is “Are you going stand out there like a Statue of Liberty?” Jon’s hands are full with a bag and a sign that says “Family kidnaped [sic] by ninjas need $ 4 karate lessons.” He looks baffled.
I imagine average cinema-goers will stare at the screen with the exact same look.
Best F(r)iends can’t be judged with the same cinematic lens as traditional films. Cult films rarely can. Sestero’s film is loaded with many similarities and references to The Room that turned it from trash, to a kind of charming trash that gets better after every viewing. Best F(r)iends not only had a budget for a drone, slick establishing shots, shallow pop culture and literary references, but even special effects that aren’t entirely terrible.
Cult cinema has always had a special place in the hearts of cinema-goers as a shared experience can turn a rather benign film screening into something transcendent. A shared experience of watching The Room does this in a matter of minutes – first time viewers often cannot believe how traditionally “bad” it is.
Best F(r)iends does something a little different. It takes elements of cult cinema and attempts to spin it on its head with a kind of mainstream absurdism. The plot is a bit more logical, there’s no hideously awkward sex scenes, and the flow of dialogue remains strangely non-sensical at times. There are a handful of nods to The Room where Wiseau and Sistero do everything but wink at the camera, and then there’s the moments when Wiseau sings his lines because he can (and should).
Fans of The Room and The Disaster Artist will enjoy the flashy charms and absurd laughs Best F(r)iends offers. Traditional movie-goers might ask the same question a character asks midway through the film. “Whose idea was this?”
Best F(r)iends screens until July 9 at The Film House at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.