James Franco is a terrible excuse for a movie star. We live in a universe of Vin Diesels and Scarlett Johanssons and yet I feel Franco may be the worst movie star I have ever seen in my life. And yes I am aware of Adam Sandler. Forget it. There is no contest. Adam Sandler is a far more worthy movie star than James Franco. I would take Sandler ten times out of ten as a movie star. And I have never liked a single Adam Sandler movie.
Just to clarify, I am not talking about acting ability here. Adam Sandler vs. James Franco in ACTING is a no-contest. Franco is a far more talented performer than Sandler. He’s even a more talented comedic performer than Sandler. Pineapple Express? Franco is flat-out hilarious in that film. But like I said this is not about acting. It’s about…
I guess I need to explain the distinction. A movie star is not the same as an actor. Both are jobs but they are different jobs and they entail different things. The job of an actor is to play a role convincingly within a story; the job of a movie star is something else entirely. What is that job exactly? To me it’s simple. The whole concept of movie stardom is built upon an illusion. That illusion can be summed up this way:
Real people are real people and movie stars are movie stars. And, ideally, never the twain shall meet.
Let me elaborate. Imagine you are at the zoo. But instead of animals the zoo is filled with incredibly beautiful and sexy and amazing and talented people. And these people give off a light that makes you almost drunk with joy. And you want to touch these people and perhaps take on some of their luminescence so that you might also spread their particular brand of intoxication which is like a gift to the universe. But you can’t touch them because there are these panes of glass separating you from them.
And this glass is completely unbreakable. The strongest Thor-like sledgehammer in the history of the world cannot even nick this glass. So no matter how hard you try you can never be one with these amazing beings, you can only watch them as they go about living their lives. And these amazing beings live amazing lives. They have incredible sex that throbs through the universe like science fiction waves of pure passion, devastating whole civilizations. And they know things you don’t know about stuff you don’t even know is there to know about. And say witty things all the time (most of which are written by ugly people who are kept in the shadows out of sight of the general public and by-and-large are not fairly compensated even though they have a union). And never get speeding tickets.
You can never break the glass. You can never be one with their light. All you may do is throw them peanuts which they gladly gather up, munching happily away on their peanuts.
That’s a movie star.
Now imagine there is this one amazing being behind his pane of glass. And he glows with the same light as the others. He is amazing and beautiful and talented and witty. And you want to break through the pane of glass and be one with his light. But then you notice there is something off about this guy. He is sitting all alone in his enclosure, no other movie stars around. He has this look on his face, sort of a knowing sneer. What does his face tell you? His face tells you, “I am better than you. That is plainly obvious. But what I want you to know is that I am also better than all the other movie stars in this place. I am better because I know THIS WHOLE THING IS JUST A BIG ZOO AND WE ARE TRAPPED HERE AND WE CAN NEVER LEAVE.” And what is that in his hand? Is that a big steaming piece of poop? Is he about to throw the poop at you (even though he can’t hit you because GLASS)?
No, you realize. He will not throw the poop. He will just squat there in his sneering self-importance with his poop in his hand THREATENING to throw the poop at you. There is no reason for him to ever actually throw the poop at you. The fact that you know it’s there is enough. The poop and the sneer convey everything he wants to convey.
He is not one with these other chumps. He may be IN the zoo but the doesn’t BELIEVE in the zoo. He is too fricking good for the zoo.
Nevertheless, he expects you to throw him peanuts. You can tell by the peanut-hungry look on his face. And you do throw him peanuts because that’s what happens in this zoo. And this guy, does he refuse the peanuts on principle? No. He gathers up the peanuts just as greedily as all the other animals. And munches away on his peanuts. Sneering and brandishing his poop all the while.
That is James Franco. He is a terrible movie star because he craps on the very sense of illusion that is the essence of movie stardom. You can’t be a great movie star unless, on some fundamental level, you buy into the illusion or at least look like you are buying into the illusion (creating a hall-of-mirrors of bullcrap that just goes on and on forever reflecting itself). Cary Grant was a great movie star because he actually seemed to believe he was this person Cary Grant. John Wayne, same deal. Never for a second did Cary Grant or John Wayne give off the feeling that being a movie star was some crock or that the people who love movie stars are a bunch of ignorant dupes. They may have THOUGHT that and may even have SAID things along those lines at cocktail parties. But when it came time to movie star? They movie starred the hell out of it. Without apologies or winks or ironic junk.
Even that loser Adam Sandler understands the basics of movie stardom. He’s no Cary Grant or John Wayne but at least he acts somewhat humble in public and gives off the feeling that he is his grateful for his dumb luck. Sandler’s face says, “I am borderline mentally retarded yet here I am, making so much money that the word obscene doesn’t even begin to cover it. Gol dang am I a fortunate mofo. Thanks ignorant public!”
Franco is the opposite of a Grant or a Wayne or a Sandler. He makes movie starring look like mere whoring. But he’s the whore who can’t even pretend to be into it. He lies there the whole time smoking and flicking ashes and asking when the heck you are going to be done already. No one wants a whore like that. No one wants a whore like James Franco making them feel stupid and bad at sex.
But how did this horrible thing happen anyway? How did James Franco come to believe that he alone among the animals of Hollywood is endowed with this knowledge of what a bundle of lies the whole thing is and furthermore he alone is allowed to smugly convey this knowledge while still getting his peanuts?
I am not entirely sure. I think maybe James Franco read one too many books. It’s not good for movie stars to read too many books. They start getting idears.
Here is all I know. Once upon a time James Franco did Spider Man and Pineapple Express. And he was on his way to becoming a delightfully off-beat star. Then one day he started doing puzzling stuff. He took work on a soap opera. And did weird videos. And fought with people on the internet. And then he did the weirdest thing of all. He hosted the Oscars with Anne Hathaway and seemed to deliberately screw up the gig.
The Oscar performance was the big clue. Franco was so disengaged that it became an actual act of contempt. Not just contempt for the viewer but contempt for the whole idea of the Oscars. What is going on with this dude, we wondered? Is he attempting some kind of Joaquin Phoenix-like stunt? Does he view himself as a performance artist/satirist/prankster? Or is he just a massive a-hole who likes urinating on things other people enjoy? Is James Franco just a troll in movie star’s clothing?
Or maybe he took the gig sincerely and then realized he was in over his head and his reaction was to go totally blank like me ordering at Arby’s (SO MUCH BEEFY CHEDDARY DELICIOUSNESS, CAN’T DECIDE)?
Nice try but no. Clearly the Oscars performance was a deliberate attempt at subversion. This is how Franco views himself. He is the hipster party crasher. He is the commando rappelling down the wall into the secret base to plant a stink bomb of hipness. He is the ninja sneaking into the dinner party and taking a dump of hipness in the punchbowl. He is somewhere between Dennis the Menace and Chuck Norris. More toward the first one. But pretentious like those people who spend 48 hours sitting on a toilet in front of Korean museum patrons for the sake of what they think is art. Yeah we get it. Socrates said a life lived unobserved blah blah blah. Is it possible you just don’t get Socrates?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with James Franco in theory. There is nothing wrong with subversion. There is nothing wrong with a brain-ninja whipping throwing stars of irony at the John Saxons of self-importance. Do the Oscars need to be brought down a peg? Absolutely. But let Ricky Gervais do it. He’s good at that sort of thing. He’s witty and caustic. What is James Franco in the end? What does his brand of apparent subversion add up to? Is he a true ironist or merely a half-assed troublemaker who can’t decide whether he wants to be admired or well-paid and so is trying to split the difference in a way so wishy-washy it would make even John Mayer blush? I would be more down with James Franco if he were actually GOOD at trolling. But he sucks at it. He sucks at it worse than he sucks at acting in those movies where he is not even trying (which lately is most of them).
This brings us to James Franco’s latest act of clumsy wannabe subversion: starring as himself in the comedic end-of-the-world spectacle This Is the End. This was my reaction when I realized this movie exists and James Franco is in it. OH MY GOD THIS LOOKS LIKE THE MOST JAMES FRANCO THING IN THE HISTORY OF THINGS. INSTEAD OF “THIS IS THE END” THE MOVIE SHOULD BE CALLED “JAMES FRANCO.”
But James Franco is not alone. EVERYONE is in this movie apparently. Including Emma Watson and Seth Rogen. They are all playing themselves. And I am supposed to be just totally blown away by the audacious metaness of the whole thing. LOOK GUYS, IT’S FAMOUS PEOPLE AND THEY’RE NOT PRETENDING TO BE OTHER PEOPLE, THEY’RE JUST BEING THEMSELVES AND SHIT IS BLOWING UP. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO RAD!
But is it going to be so rad? Or is this just another James Franco move? Has Franco pulled another alleged fast one? It certainly looks like it. And this time he has accomplices. He has sucked a bunch of other perfectly nice people into his black hole of poop-brandishing self-loathing. And yeah that’s what I think. I think self-loathing is at the core of Franco’s Franconess. He doesn’t just hate you, the gawking zoo patron, he hates himself. He hates that he has to do this for a living. In his heart he’s a great artist but the only art he is actually good at is something he doesn’t consider legit. He reminds me of Marlon Brando toward the end when Brando was just trolling the living crap out of everyone. Brando went from being a great movie star to a terrible excuse for a movie star. Franco followed the same path but he went south a lot faster. Now he just flat out sucks. The sight of him in a trailer makes all the joy leak out of me like the air from a balloon. I am the balloon in the French movie soaring over the rooftops of Paris so free and filled with joy but here comes an arrow shaped like James Franco and I am popped and my sad deflated ball-skin-looking remains plummet to earth to be trampled into the dirty cobblestones under the hooves of horses. While an accordion plays somewhere. Poignantly.
Eff you Franco. You ruiner.