James Franco has a lot going for himself. At thirty-four he’s already had a prolific career having risen from the parapets of television to Hollywood challenger status all while attending grad school and appearing in a daytime soap.
But doesn’t this sound like the last-ditch attempt of a fading star seeking to reclaim the limelight? In interviews I’ve seen of him Franco appears as nothing more than a nice guy and it feels criminal to be mean about his new film currently being shown at Tribeca–but Francophrenia was painfully unpleasant.
Like an affecting documentary at first, Francophrenia evinces a silent but thoughtful observation on fan culture: we watch as streams of people (who most likely don’t come out for special tapings of General Hospital) line up, all in the hope of getting close to a celeb (namely, Franco).
The segment, at first intriguing, carries on to the point of discomfort. Eventually though, the actor makes his way unto the bedlam that is the film set. Later in the film, through narration, Franco tells us that this is where he feels most comfortable at a moment when he, or his character, feels that he is coming unglued.
What follows next is a combination of behind-the-scenes and B-roll footage of a never-aired taping of General Hospital, and features takes that can only be described as the hallucinatory consequences of smoking too much cannabis. While this would be a great opportunity for James Franco to make a statement about something or about anything for that matter, what he is trying to say is ultimately unclear.
As the end credits rolled, some people in the audience threw out words like “pretentious” and “arrogant.” I would’ve said “paranoid delusions of grandeur” instead. Perhaps this was Franco’s attempt at making an experimental film? The story behind the story seemed more interesting than anything else. Perhaps I should take up watching General Hospital.
And now to the movie’s pluses. Franco’s alter-ego character, the Franco from General Hospital, or at least his description of it, was very compelling. In this oft-over-the-top genre that are soap operas, his character seems more than cozy navigating the outrageous storylines. At some point Franco makes a telling statement, one which could almost hold Francophrenia up on its own: “the great thing about art is it’s always open to interpretation.”
Yes, Francophrenia is just too contrived. It has that art-school project vibrancy but with little on offer. And when the best moments provided are hilarious scenes taken from bathroom decals, it’s safe to say “that’s all she wrote.”
That is fortunately, and perhaps unfortunately, the most beautiful part about this whole film.
James Franco has free rein to do whatever he wants and to be completely unapologetic about it all, while still being this grounded and free-spirited dude—a quality that should be envied. Personally, I will continue watching everything he does, whether I like it or not, because I believe he has something very interesting to offer–but this film was not that.