An A To Z Of James Franco
Somehow, W isn't for wanker.
Oh, Franco! The man, the myth — and if you believe the dude himself — the legend. The self-appointed hardest-working man in show business has had quite a 2013. He’s acted, written, directed, produced and sang his way through 15 projects. He’s played a rapping drug dealer, the founder of Playboy, and James Franco. He’s played the Wizard of Oz, a charming doctor, and James Franco. He then played James Franco again. And again. The only actor in Hollywood with more experience portraying themselves would be… er, let me get back to you on that.
With this week’s release of Lovelace, it’s time to play catch-up with a handy A to Z guide of James Franco’s 2013. Consider it a yearbook of accomplishments.
A is for Alien: One of the few iconic characters of 2013 came in the form of a white, rapping gangsta with cornrows, grillz, a car with dollar sign rims, a stash of guns and cash, and a band of teenage rebels willing to do his criminal bidding. Spring Breakers remains one of the year’s best films, and that’s in part due to Franco’s performance as Alien. His repetitious mantra of “spriiiing breeeaaaak” is almost as chilling as his penchant for Britney Spears.
B is for Blowjob: It’s no joke when I say oral sex comes up (zing!) quite frequently in Franco’s work. This or any other year. It’s most predominantly displayed in Lovelace, Interior. Leather Bar and Spring Breakers, in which Franco famously fellates a gun. “Guess I’m a natural”, he says.
C is for Child Of God: I was recently “lucky” enough to attend a screening of Child Of God at the New York Film Festival. With this effort, I think Franco became the first person to have three different films premiere at the three big European film festivals — Berlin, Cannes and Venice — within the same calendar year. It’s a mighty achievement, even if none of them are particularly any good. This Cormac McCarthy adaptation lacks the tense energy of No Country For Old Men or the haunting edge of John Hillcoat’s The Road. Rather, it becomes an increasingly ugly portrayal of a man and his love for a corpse. Maybe Franco’s just getting ahead of the curve? Necrophilia: it’ll be big in 2014!
D is for The Director: James Franco produced and appeared briefly in this documentary about The House of Gucci, which I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. It’s filmed in exquisitely appropriate black and white (just like a perfume commercial), but is ultimately little more than a fawning tribute with little true insight.
E is for Emma Watson: Remember how good she was in This Is The End? Kinda makes you wish they’d cast her in Spring Breakers, too.
F is for A Fuller Life: Documentaries about famous people made by a family member are usually a precarious proposition, given as they are to a lack of emotional distance. I haven’t seen Samantha Fuller’s documentary about her father — the film director, Sam Fuller — but the movie received polite, if not totally positive, reviews out of its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August. Franco appears alongside a long list of other filmmakers, reading extracts from Fuller’s 2003 autobiography.
G is for Gator: The plot description for Franco’s upcoming film Homefront reads, “A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth drug lord.” Obviously, Franco plays Gator, the meth drug lord in question. It’s one of many characters he’s played that you wouldn’t want to take home to your mother.
H is for Hugh Hefner: Does it come as any surprise that James plays the king of porno magazines, Hugh Hefner, in Lovelace? The two look nothing alike, but that means little when you get such sly casting as this.
I is for Interior. Leather Bar: I recently reviewed this weird combo of documentary and fiction with the words, “Nothing here is going to shock any audience who goes into the film aware of what they’re getting themselves in for.” Proposed as a recreation of William Friedkin’s infamous 1980 gay serial killer movie Cruising, it’s actually little more than a gender politics essay on film. Straight people have sex like this, but gay people have sex like thiiiisss.
Does sarcasm work in gifs?
J is for James Franco: What else? If we’ve learned anything from letters A-I, it’s that’s James Franco loves James Franco. And in some weird way, I love him for loving himself so much.
K is for Kink: Another documentary that Franco produced this year. This one, as you can maybe tell from the title, is about the BDSM porn industry. Specifically, this website. It’s actually surprisingly great, and a worthwhile examination of a much-maligned sub-culture and the industry that serves it.
L is for Lovelace: This star-studded film is based on the true story — albeit with plenty of artistic licence — of Linda Lovelace, who made history as the star of Deep Throat in 1972. The film is a rather ho-hum affair that rarely does anything unique or outside the box of your typical biopic. Boogie Nights this ain’t, although there’s some great performances by Amanda Seyfried and a cast of indie favourites like Adam Brody, Juno Temple and Peter Sarsgaard. Franco appears briefly as ‘Mr. Playboy’ in what amounts to little more than a cameo.
M is for The Mindy Project: As Dr Paul Leotard on two episodes of The Mindy Project’s second season, Franco’s back to his good-looking, funny self. The one that looks as if he showers on a regular basis, and lets his big grin charm the pants off of the audience.
N is for Nicole Kidman: Once upon a time, Nicole Kidman and James Franco were supposed to star in a Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird Of Youth. That never panned out, but it was recently announced that the two may finally get to work together on Werner Herzog’s Queen Of The Desert.
O is for “Oh, Franco!”: My personal favourite exclamation for whenever James does something ridiculous. Re-edit the River Phoenix-starring classic My Own Private Idaho using off-shoots from 1991? Oh, Franco! Re-cut footage from his guest-starring role on General Hospital into a mini-thriller called Francophrenia (Or Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)? Oh, Franco! You get the idea.
P is for Palo Alto: Palo Alto is Franco’s Californian hometown, as well as the title to a collection of his short stories that were published in 2010. The film adaptation from Gia Coppola — Francis Ford’s granddaughter and Sofia’s niece — premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August to middling reviews. Naturally, Franco stars.
Q is for Queer: As in, he is not. He wishes he was, but he’s not.
R is for Roast: Not content to appear in seemingly every second movie of 2013, Franco’s been popping up all over television, too. There’s The Mindy Project and Hollywood Heights, and then there was the Comedy Central Roast: a night of gags pivoting mostly on his apparent super-gayness, his inability to open his eyes properly, and his large number of Jewish friends. I’m a terrible person for laughing at so many of the offensive jokes, but I think the best of the night went to comedian Natasha Leggero: “James Franco: acting, teaching, directing, writing, producing, photography, soundtracks, editing… Is there anything you can do?”
S is for Sal: A couple of years ago, Franco premiered his avant-garde biopic of gay actor Sal Mineo at the Venice Film Festival. Reviews were not favourable, with The Hollywood Reporter stating that “it’s too small-scale and sketchy for wide theatrical distribution.” Well, they were right… until now. Two years later, Sal will finally get a US release in November. I am shivering with anticipation.
T is for This Is The End: One of the year’s funniest movies was this meta bro-comedy starring Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and a huge cast of celebrities portraying themselves as they get caught up in the rapture. Poking fun at his artistic endeavours and penchant for projects with homosexual themes are just some of the endless stream of gags (pun unintended) directed at Franco.
U is for UCLA: James Franco isn’t shy about relaying his experiences at many of the fine higher educational learning facilities to which he has attended. Barely a minute into the press conference following the New York Film Festival’s screening of Child Of God, he was already mentioning his time at UCLA. He makes a “completely dedicated” professor, apparently.
V is for Veronica Mars: Earlier this year, Franco filmed a role in the upcoming Veronica Mars movie that was funded through Kickstarter. He will play… who else but himself!
W is for William Faulkner: Premiering at Cannes earlier this year was Franco’s adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic novel, As I Lay Dying. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to see it yet because, well, nobody wants to release it. Deemed unfilmable by many, it would appear that Franco didn’t necessarily embarrass himself with the project, but neither did he make a masterpiece. Junkee contributor Tara Judah reviewed the film at the Cannes Film Festival, criticising Franco’s “over-acting” and labelling it “a visually inspiring yet unsuccessful attempt.” An Australian DVD release of mid-November has apparently been set.
X is for X-Rated: Franco’s attempt at recreating the 40-minutes of lost X-rated footage from Cruising with the aforementioned Interior. Leather Bar is pretty much a failure on all counts. There are more shocking acts in the 1980 original than in the 2013 recreation!
Y is for Yale: Did you know that James Franco also went to Yale? Another extra-curricular venture that you’ll never hear the end of once he starts. Still, at least he went to university, unlike many others in this industry.
Z is for Oz: Yeah, we’re cheating on this, but who cares? The year started out rather atypically for James Franco, starring in Sam Raimi’s big budget blockbuster Oz: The Great And Powerful. He wasn’t particularly good in this prequel to The Wizard Of Oz, but there’s something altogether hilarious about the same actor appearing in a Walt Disney production one month and a film about gay pornography the next. And I didn’t even get to mention The Iceman or Third Person or Venice 70: Future Reloaded. What will he think of next?
Lovelace is now showing in select cinemas nationally.
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.