Scalding Hot Takes: Best F(r)iends
According to Hollywood lore, when the first audiences saw From Here to Eternity and Superman actor George Reeves came onscreen as Sergeant Maylon Stark they were so distracted that they started yelling out things like, “Hey Superman, shouldn’t you be saving Lois Lane from Lex Luthor or a more minor villain like Brainiac or Bizarro?” and “Get a load of this Superman-playing ass motherfucker onscreen playing someone other than Superman? How dare he? Let’s riot to express our dissatisfaction with this bizarre and unwelcome turn of events.”
Then people started angrily hurling flaming projectiles at the screen, including at least one Molotov Cocktail, and ripping the seats out of the floor in a furious rage. “Let’s find George Reeves, the actor who plays Superman, and murder him for daring to play a character other than the one we know him for!”
The angry, now torch-wielding mob (how they acquired torches, no one knows, but you best believe they had them) descended upon George Reeves’ home to murder him for playing a role other than Superman and send a message to other actors who might be thinking of stretching out and trying to avoid typecasting but when they got to his house he had committed suicide, leaving behind a note that read, simply, “It was a mistake for me to play someone other than Superman. I’m sorry. May God have mercy on my soul.”
A despondent studio burnt every single print of the completed film to get Reeves’ curse off it and re-filmed the movie in its entirety. It went on to become an iconic, Oscar-winning hit that resurrected Frank Sinatra’s film career while giving rise to what is today known as the “Superman Curse.”
That story, which, now that I really look at it, may be slightly exaggerated, helps explain why we haven’t seen a whole lot of our friends Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in anything other than The Room.
Seeing Tommy Wiseau pop up in a movie would have a strong, immediate effect. The problem is that effect might actually be too strong, to the point where it would take audiences out of whatever film they’re watching and back into the hypnotic, singular and surreal universe of The Room.
For me, that wouldn't matter. If I were a casting director for, I dunno, the next Transformers sequel I would amuse myself by casting Wiseau as, I dunno, the head of the FBI or our ambassador to the UN. It wouldn’t have to be a huge role, and obviously once audiences saw Wiseau opposite Mark Wahlberg or whatever supermodel is playing the film’s female lead they’d be distracted but since those movies are just one damn thing after another, who cares? Why not cast Sestero as a lost Witwicky? Please, someone start a pointless online petition to get The Room into the next Transformers blockbuster.
But if you're making the From Here to Eternity of 2018, you'd probably be a little worried about audiences sitting up, taking notice and squealing to their significant other, "Oh my God! That's fucking Tommy Wiseau! In a movie other than The Room! That is crazy" once they see the eccentric auteur onscreen.
As someone who has probably watched them onscreen together for eighteen to twenty four hours collectively, and read a book about their relationship, and then watched the film adaptation of that book twice I can vouch that Sestero and Wiseau have a singularly compelling yin and yang, beauty and the beast, Dracula and the boy next door dynamic and compelling screen presences.
Some combinations are magic. They mean something. Their intertwined names echo through the ages. John, Paul, George and Ringo. Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank. Borat and that hirsute, morbidly obese man. Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau.
Fifteen years into The Room phenomenon, Sestero has clearly and healthily accepted that his life and legacy, and the life and legacy of his handsome young Louisiana collaborator and compatriot from The Room will always be inextricably intertwined. So he did what Wiseau did to kick off The Room mania in the first place and wrote a movie for them to star in together.
As writer, producer and star, Sestero has helped create a movie that lives comfortably in the enormous shadow of The Room and everything that it has wrought, good and bad. He’s not trying to run away from the movie that made him and his co-star infamous. Instead he’s created a oddly charming sleeper that serves as both a spiritual sequel and a companion film to The Room, a sort of alternate-universe riff on Wiseau’s hysterical original.
I had the pleasure of seeing the movie in a theater with Sestero in attendance and the crowd laughed throughout, often at moments that seemed to reference, directly or obliquely, moments from The Room. The film was full of Easter eggs, as it were, that seemed to connect the two movies in a WiseauSesteroverse full of studded belts and complicated friendships and hard to pin down accents.
The accidental masterstroke of The Room was that it cast the weirdest man in the universe (I of course mean that as high praise) as an ordinary man, a good provider and solid businessman pursuing the American dream. That was an unintentional masterpiece of miscasting central to the film’s enduring cult.
Best F(r)iends understandably pursues a different tactic. Instead of giving the um, unique thespian a role he’s’ hilariously wrong for Sestero has given him a role as odd, spooky and weirdly compelling as the b-movie icon playing him.
Sestero plays Jon Kortina, a scruffy homeless man deeply scarred by childhood trauma. His days are a blur of begging and desperation until he meets Wiseau’s Harvey Lewis, a mortician of indeterminate age and indeterminate ethnicity who, like the actor playing him, seems to inhabit a weird world of his own design, a “paradise” at the intersection of life and death where the dead are not just gussied up and made to look as beautiful as humanly possible; they’re also celebrated.
They’re two lonely souls adrift in the moonlit melancholy of the fringes of Los Angeles until they find each other and begin an unlikely friendship that turns into an even more unlikely collaboration when they start selling the teeth of the dead to shadowy underworld figures for huge sums of money.
But can their friendship survive extraordinary, ill-gotten wealth and Jon’s scheming new girlfriend?
To say that Best F(r)iends is not plot-driven would be an understatement. It’s not a movie about plot. It’s about mood. It’s about texture. It’s a film of images, of moments, of ideas.
It’s about loneliness both as a subject and a universe. It’s unabashedly arty, the closest we’re probably ever going to get to a Tommy Wiseau Sundance movie yet at times it also has the archetypal simplicity and power of a grim fairy tale.
I liked the hazy, hypnotic look and sound of Best F(r)iends, which at times recalls the low-stakes, casual world of mumblecore, but the movie also reminded me of the New Hollywood of the late 1960s and 1970s, which was similarly fixated on telling non-commercial, deeply personal stories about drifters and outcasts looking for meaning and companionship as they pursue their ramshackle American dreams and form unlikely but supportive surrogate families.
Best F(r)iends makes smart use of its stars’ idiosyncratic talents. Best F(r)iends does not ask us to buy Tommy Wiseau as a normal guy. Or as an American. Instead it embraces Wiseau’s wonderful weirdness, the way he seems better suited to playing a monster in a Universal horror movie from the 1930s than a contemporary human being.
Best F(r)iends suggests there’s no such thing as a bad actor (although heaven knows some have applied the term to Wiseau), only actors badly used. Best F(r)iends makes inspired use of Wiseau by drawing extensively on both his onscreen history with Sestero and their offscreen friendship, a curious bond documented for posterity in multiple mediums.
It’s high praise to say that I can easily imagine someone mistaking Best F(r)iends for a dream and telling a friend, “Yeah, I had this really fucked up dream. There was this really good-looking homeless guy selling dead people’s teeth along with this mortician guy with a wallet chain. And Tommy Wiseau was in it for some reason? Anyay, it was messed up.”
Best F(r)iends is also something of a stoner film. I was a little drunk when I saw it, and it would not have hurt my experience of the film if I were a little high as well.
It’s most assuredly not for everyone but for those with an open mind and an enduring appreciation for the curious magic that is Sestero & Wiseau it’s a long, weird trip most assuredly worth taking even if the two hours of inspired weirdness I watched only constitutes the first half of the story, on some Nymphomaniac, Kill Bill, Infinity War type shit. The second half will be hitting theaters later this year so there’s a whole lot more Lynchian oddness yet to come.
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