Review: Best F(r)iends: Volume 2
Abbott and Costello. Lemmon and Matthau. Frankenstein and the Wolfman. Wiseau and Sestero. The stars of cult classic The Room complete one of the most unlikely trilogies of the last fifteen years with Best F(r)iends: Volume 2. More than just a curio made to capitalize on Tommy Wiseau’s cinematic notoriety, Best F(r)iends, written by Wiseau’s co-star and actual best friend, Greg Sestero—is an alluring, frequently inexplicable neo-noir. Volume 2 shifts gears to end this saga of trust, betrayal, and a stolen ATM in a way fully befitting this strange pair, even if it underplays its greatest asset.
Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 immediately plunges the viewer back into the saga of Harvey (Wiseau), a mysterious mortician, and his best friend-parentheses-fiend Jon (Sestero), the sad-eyed, sandy-haired drifter who lured him into a get rich quick scheme involving stolen dental gold. After the startling betrayal that ended the previous film, we catch up with Jon and his girlfriend Traci (Kristen StephensonPino) as they flee with their ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately for them, the money is hidden in an old ATM that Harvey was using as a safe, and they have no idea how to open it. Calling Traci’s Uncle Rick (Rick Edwards) for help only entraps Jon in an even bigger web of deceit, but as the framing device featuring Jon handcuffed to a very familiar-looking spiral staircase hints, Harvey is not far behind him.
Did Best F(r)iends need to be split up into two films? That’s the question that inevitably hangs over this review, though most tuxedo-clad superfans of The Room need little convincing to sit through three hours of another Wiseau/Sestero fever dream. Fortunately, as far as second acts go, Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 is more of a Kill Bill Volume 2 than a Breaking Dawn Part 2, shifting genres into a heist-western in the bloody vein of the Coen Bros to complete its story. The result is a much more straightforward film, featuring distinctive work by director Justin MacGregor that’s more consistent in tone and full of beautiful, desolate shots of the Arizona desert. Unfortunately, it also loses some of its charming madness along the way, and even hardcore fans may find their interest sagging as Jon and Traci are thwarted by that most infuriating of inanimate objects, the ATM.
This is Greg Sestero’s film, and he stoically plays the role of the criminal whose biggest conflict isn’t with the law or even Harvey, but with himself. It’s a quiet, introspective performance that might have evaporated onscreen if Sestero’s previous modeling career hadn’t prepared him for conveying emotion with a glance. By contrast, Rick Edwards’ “Uncle Rick,” an Earth-2 Clint Eastwood with a cowboy hat and enough colorful aphorisms to fill a book, nearly overwhelms Best F(r)iends with his gigantic presence (If the film’s claim to be “inspired by true events” seems dubious, then the amount of “local color” peppering it suggests it was at least based on true people.) With his bulging muscles and penchant for throwing footballs, Rick feels like another lost Tommy Wiseau alter-ego, and he’s memorable enough to join that prestigious cinematic rogue’s gallery that includes The Room’s Denny and Chris R.
You may have noticed that Wiseau himself has been barely mentioned throughout this review. In the film’s boldest move, Tommy Wiseau plays a much smaller role, functioning as an almost supernatural presence following Jon and nagging at his conscience (To keep the Clint Eastwood connections going, maybe this is Wiseau’s High Plains Drifter) and he spends most of his screentime with his face – that unforgettable mug that’s haunted a famous L.A. billboard and countless DVD covers – hidden behind masks. His performance is still unmistakably Wiseau-ian, especially when he rambles on with vague speeches about friendship that sound like they come from an inter-dimensional quote-a-day calendar. At my screening, I could sense a palpable impatience in the audience as they waited for more Tommy, but I thought it was a savvy, tension-building decision by Sestero and MacGregor. When Wiseau does appear, it truly is a “Carl Denham unveiling King Kong” reveal, with Wiseau wearing a costume I won’t even attempt to describe because it’s better as a cracked-out surprise.
Paling slightly in comparison to its gonzo first half, Best F(r)iends: Volume 2 is still a long, strange road trip of a movie. When it was over, I immediately wanted to watch it again, and scan both films for clues, in-jokes, and even plot holes, just to make sure I hadn’t missed any pieces to this bizarre puzzle. And, honestly, what higher praise can I give? Go see it with a friend.