6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

Spring Breakers 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

This past month has provided a perfect sample of the man, the myth, the enigma, the bizarre riddle that is James Franco. We’ve been given Oz the Great and Powerful, which for many demonstrated the limits of Franco’s charm. The character of Oscar, aka Oz, is meant to be some sort of redeemable sleazebag, but Franco makes him pretty much all sleazebag, and this makes the witches’ shared infatuation with him more than slightly implausible. I can handle a fantasy land with munchkins and magic but the notion that Franco as Oz is remotely likeable was too much.

Then there’s Spring Breakers. While being very slowly rolled out in theaters following its opening at South by Southwest, this movie has been receiving enormous buzz, with some of the highest praise being awarded to Franco’s performance. Having not seen the movie yet myself, I can’t speak to it specifically. But the possibility that Franco is electric as a weirdo creep in this thing does not seem at all farfetched, given some really solid work he’s turned in previously in his career.

That’s not even mentioned all his extra-curricular activity, as an artist, a graduate student and lecturer, a soap opera performer, an essayist—he’s earned the right to be called a Renaissance Man and yet many use this term pejoratively towards Franco. Does he deserve it? I can’t decide for myself. Here are 6 reasons why I don’t know whether this dude is badass, or just an ass.

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1) Sometimes he acts real good

127 Hours1 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

Though known to some as the guy from Freaks and Geeks and the TV movie James Dean, for which he gained a great amount of critical attention, James Franco was introduced to mass audiences for the first time in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002, playing best friend Harry Osborn. He was fine enough in this franchise, and the failure of the third installment was certainly not on his shoulders. In 2008, the year after Spider-Man 3 was released, things took off for Franco acting-wise. He garnered a ton of critical and popular attention for his work in Milk, as well as for his more comedic turn in Pineapple Express. There are of course other examples of excellent work he’s done.

With the exception of Milk, Franco fits the bill for big weirdo exceptionally well. His odd speaking style and general stoner-aesthetic lends itself to this neat fit. He used this persona to great effect in Pineapple Express alongside proud stoner Seth Rogen, but the movie he really brought this weirdness to and used it in really interesting ways (not that a weed dealer is inherently less interesting than a solo canyon diver) was 127 Hours in 2010. We don’t seem him interact with people a whole lot in this movie, but in the brief moments he does, we get a real sense of who this character is, and perhaps why he spends so much time alone, which ultimately results in his solitary ordeal. As mentioned earlier, by all accounts he brings this weird creep vibe to his role in Spring Breakers, which is encouraging, because the last film to feature him in a lead role left a pretty horrid taste in my mouth.

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2) Sometimes he acts real bad

Your Highness 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

Yes, Oz the Great and Powerful, and James Franco’s performance in it, really left a bad taste in my mouth, and this was despite the fact I was eating cotton candy throughout, so, yeah, it was pretty bad. I’m not even prepared to pass judgment on his acting in this or other films where he has seemed like a weak element, because especially in the case of Oz, there’s a good bet he was hung out to dry, along with the three witch portrayers—Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz—who are normally excellent.

The whole movie felt off, and a lot of it was due to the Oz character and how he was treated. It seemed like they were aiming for one of those complicated heroes who’s not really a good guy but then does good things and redeems himself and yada yada. These are apparently really hard to pull off, because a lot of writers and filmmakers seem to think that all they need to do to establish someone as a good man is to have female characters refer to him as a “good person” or “good guy.” I just don’t find this satisfying. I didn’t think there was enough in front of me to agree with Glinda that Oz was good in the end. And I’m not just going to take a witch’s word for it, I’m sorry.

This is only one example, and admittedly, there aren’t many. I think, if pressed, I would side with those who say Oz and Your Highness are the exceptions in Franco’s filmography rather than the rule.

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3) Sometimes he does interesting things with his life

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

I dig that James Franco is super into education, to an extent. I have complicated feelings towards academia in general and the qualities that are valued in the environment of liberal arts colleges that rarely include intelligent and critical thought, but I won’t hold that against him too much. He is someone who wants to be learning all the time, and that’s admirable. He has a reputation for being a voracious reader, including reading heavy works while on set for movies he’s working on, so that seems cool. It’s also rare for someone who achieved stardom at a relatively young age like Franco did to make education a priority later in life to make up for missed opportunities earlier in their lives, so honestly, good on him for all that.

He also seems really interested in all kinds of forms of artistic expression, and likes to experiment with things. He seems willing to try anything, such as appearing as a recurring character on a popular TV soap opera. This was weird but kind of cool. Then there’s the other art work he’s produced, including short stories and films and documentaries and essays and multimedia stuff. I haven’t seen any of this material for myself, but the project he collaborated on with Gus Van Sant involving My Own Private Idaho and River Phoenix sounds particularly interesting, potentially at least. Van Sant is probably a good mentor for someone like Franco.

Then he does a bunch of charity work that we rarely hear about, so he seems alright.

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4) Sometimes he does annoying and pretentious things with his life

James Franco Spider Man 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

Ok, maybe it’s not that annoying but the whole Renaissance Man thing seems a bit much at times, no? I mean good on him for trying all this stuff, and I know it doesn’t hurt anybody. I just can’t imagine he’s good at all these things. If he is, well then I’m just a jealous prick.

So to recap: he writes and directs short films. He makes documentaries. He’s making feature films now himself too. He writes and has published collections of short stories. He makes multimedia art exhibitions. And he’s a lecturer and professor at more than one college. Oh, and he has a band apparently. This reminds me of several people I know, who do everything and are crazy productive and people treat them like they’re brilliant. I’ve heard James Franco speak on heady topics. I’ve read essays he’s written on pop culture, though I haven’t read his scholarly work. He just doesn’t seem like professor material to me, I guess. But I’d be happy to be provided evidence to the contrary. In the meantime, I’ll reserve judgment.

It’s just…I mean can’t he just be satisfied with being one of the sexiest men alive??

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5) Sometimes he’s funny and playful

Pineapple Express 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

So there’s a couple stories for these last two points that are purely anecdotal, but that’s sort of all most of us have to go on in these situations, so let’s treat them with a grain of salt, shall we? It’s just for fun. I watched James Franco appear on The Colbert Report when he was promoting Oz the Great and Powerful. This was a fun interview. They bantered back and forth about Franco’s various projects, his many interests, and the tone was generally pleasant.

It came to a head when Franco challenged Colbert to a Lord of the Rings trivia contest, and Colbert, being possibly the world’s foremost expert on Tolkien trivia, mopped the floor with him. And it was all well taken and well received and fun for everyone involved! Franco seemed like a cool guy.

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6) Sometimes he takes himself really seriously

Howl1 6 Reasons To Feel Ambivalent About James Franco

Then there’s another story—and this is third-hand, I can’t stress enough how little stock should be put in its veracity or whatever—involving a life WTF podcast event Marc Maron hosted at South by Southwest with Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine and James Franco and a couple other guests, and Maron made some joke about how seriously Franco takes himself. Franco responded to this by taking offense, according to Maron and others in attendance. Not exactly what someone who truly does not take themself seriously tends to do when such a jab is made. So I don’t know what to make of that

None of this is meant to say conclusively whether James Franco is one of our national treasures or a national joke. He’s probably closer to the treasure side, if we had to rate him on a scale, right? He’s no Jennifer Lawrence but he’s no Mel Gibson. There are just these hints of tidbits of information that pop up about James Franco that on some days induce eye rolls and on others, fistpumps. For every “you go, girl!” there tends to be a corresponding “dude…” And this is confusing for folks like me (and Stephen Colbert) who prefer to have something set out for us in black and white, this guy is cool or lame, a great actor or a waste of time. Facetiousness aside, it’s probably a good thing for stars like James Franco to retain an air of mystery and keep us on our toes, so that we are able to be pleasantly surprised at movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And without movies like Oz, this probably wouldn’t be as rewarding. Despite any reservations I have about his work on screen and in life, I’m really looking forward to seeing James Franco in This is the End.

Do you have complicated feelings about James Franco that you want to work out? Well, we have a comments section below where you can do just that. Go nuts, man.

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  • Jennykay

    Not too complicated to me, he’s awesome! :-) & about that 3rd hand story: If some Moron said a thing like that about me, I probably wouldn’t be too nice about it either (& that doesn’t mean it’s true; it just means the Moron was being an ass). :-)

  • Beth

    James Franco is a very good actor, when he wants to be. He’s also very lazy and full of himself. His performances in Oz and the Oscars prove how lazy he can be if he’s not interested in a role. Yes, Oz was a mess but while you have great actors like Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams making a go with what they had, you had Franco just sleepwalking, not caring about what he was doing. And yes, that did showed on screen. The same “i do not care about anyone or thing other than myself” that you saw while he was hosting the Oscars. As for him being a Renaissance man, Franco can call himself that if he wants but he lacks the one thing that makes that title special, humility. A great example of that would be his interview with Howard Stern just last week. Yes, Franco was fun and was honest but he still came across as full of himself when he started trashing his early films and exposing that he did a sex tape with his ex girlfriend. He also still does not take responsibility for his performance at the Oscars and still threw people under the bus for what had happen. Not the mention the fact that he went on to attack the people who he works for at the college that he’s teaching at.

    Franco is a good actor but he’s his own worse enemy.

  • candice

    Its awfully funny to me, that the writer of this article mocks and criticizes, on the verge of judging, James Franco, yet… has such a poor writing style, even at moments is grammatically incorrect, that he selflessly turns this article into a non-credible, laughable piece of what he seems to expect as value.

    James Franco is a diverse character who is yes, uncommonly productive in his life. He may not be the very best at each task he takes on, however I don’t believe he is claiming to be so either. He has all the resources to turn his interests into real life projects, so why not? Money is no object with this guy right, so I admire how he chooses to spend his time- writing screenplays, lecturing, reading, etc., rather than spend his time and money like many Hollywood actors- buying expensive cars, using heavy dugs, partying, etc.

    To be ambivalent about something, means to not feel uncertain. However, this article has a strong bias and is recommending you think Franco is a fake. I did not enjoy how this reading projected a different feeling than what the title presented. And just to add, why even write an article such as this? Truthfully, its rather cruel and unnecessary and is a perfect example a low quality piece of writing.

    • Downvoter

      What on earth are you talking about?