The Franco Files — #3

ffWelcome to April, and the third edition of The Franco Files! We again continue exploring the different ways in which one actor has an impact on the overall film. There have only been two editions thus far, but I think I’ve already highlighted some pretty diverse roles from this, the former heart throb of Freaks & Geeks. Unfortunately, his reputation as of late has been cast into a not-so-favorable light given certain Instagram-related activity, as has been made public several days ago now. What I’m going to say next will probably stun many as to how blind a follower of the guy I may be. . . . .

. . . .because I really think the guy just made a mistake using social media. While I don’t believe for a second that he’s as clueless to apps like Instagram as he is claiming to be, people and the Internets man. . . those two things sometimes don’t mix. Social media has proven so far to be an incredibly complex beast that can have far-reaching implications depending on the actions of its participants. An actor being a fairly high-profile user of these kinds of applications can find themselves in the news depending on what they choose to do and who they choose to associate with.

What this scandal is really good for, though, is setting up for my next highlight. Last month we looked at James Franco becoming a friendly stoner in David Gordon Green’s stoner comedy Pineapple Express. We turn this time to a more scandalous and possibly controversial role of his, a very recent one as a matter of fact. It’s a role that’s quite befitting of the times, what with 17-year-old girls blowing up his account with selfie’s and shit. Oh, James. You silly, lovestruck fool.


Francophile #3: Alien, Spring Breakers

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Quite possibly James Franco’s most cosmetically transformative role, the gold-teeth gangster-rapper might also be his most psychologically transformative as well. Franco brings his charismatic smile to a face hardened by a presumably troubled life, a life maybe even on the streets which has led him to where he is now, living it up in a sunny beach locale doing drugs and putting on a show for the drunken mob of spring breakers visiting his town. Clearly older than most who appear on screen, he’s a hell of a hard partier himself and frequently courts danger with all of his shady connections with various gangs. He’s undoubtedly a misled man but when four young girls crash land in his life when they are arrested suddenly and need bail money to get out, Alien discovers he has something more buried underneath all those tattoos and cornrows. As the girls continue to stick around the scene, Alien becomes something of a protector (even if a more accurate term might be an enabler) to these. . e-hem, adventurous 18-year-olds. A fondness for Britney Spears and the color pink demonstrates a capacity for caring, a trait that wonderfully contradicts his physical appearance. Despite how transformative the supporting role is though, the film’s best asset is still Franco being Franco.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: it’s sense of humor. Despite the bikinis, bright colors and bumping soundtrack, Spring Breakers is a rather dark and morose series of events. Without Franco’s Alien, it’s not difficult to imagine the film becoming overburdened by melodrama. Alien is not only a creative, surprising character, he provides the film some much-needed comedic relief in a number of scenes. He may also be a big reason why some of the drama is created, especially in the film’s later stages, but the chief thing the film would lack without him would be any laughter at all. The girls, despite putting on good performances, are not what one would call generally likable and “funny,” even if some of their actions may cause a smirk. No, it is indeed James Franco who gives Spring Breakers a jolt of delicious entertainment.

Out of Character: [Spring Breakers] is a critique and it’s a celebration, and I don’t think it wants to be any one thing. This movie is the ultimate mash-up. In a way, it has its cake and it eats it, too. If you want to read it one way, it’s a critique of pop culture; the way we are just more and more dealing with surface-level things and images and the way those things fill our lives. And on another level, it’s using that idea of ‘surfaces’ as an aesthetic choice. The movie really takes advantage of those music video, cell phone-video aesthetics. I think we all just were waiting for a movie like this to be a part of. It was sort of effortless, such fun.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 


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Spring Breakers


Release: Friday, March 22, 2013


Spring Break forever, b*tches…

This being the mantra of Harmony Korine’s new movie, Spring Breakers begs but just one question: is it hot — or not?

Thanks to impressive performances, a Drive-esque soundtrack and editing effects, and borderline gratuitous nudity Spring Breakers distinguishes itself from other debauch films of its kind — things like Project X, The Hangover, and a whole host of post-American Pie boy-fantasy adventures. James Franco knocks it dead in one of the most unlikely leads I’ve ever seen him undertake (remember, he was on the cover of High Times magazine following his performance in Pineapple Express.) This role is better than him appearing to be the new Hollywood ambassador for potheads.

Then there’s the four girls at the heart of this get-crunk story: Brit (Ashley Brenson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) who define what hardcore partying is all about, and most of them are rather likable. In films that are thin on morality and all about some “good times,” being able to like the main characters is a big plus. Just for comparison’s sake, Nima Nourizadeh’s version (Project X) suffered from a case of featuring detestable teenage punks, thereby the film became far less attractive. Here, while the bikinis are let loose the sun radiates magnificently, and the drugs, guns and good times simply roll.

If that doesn’t at least intrigue you, perhaps you would not be an ideal test audience for Spring Breakers. But that doesn’t matter. Surface appeal isn’t everything in this film…even though losing clothes does seem to become the overarching theme here. There is a surprisingly wholesome quality in the message being sent by shedding your bathing suits and your inhibitions — in this case, anyway.

These four girls are looking for a way out. Out of the far-too-familiar college dorm; out of the routine existence in their one-horse town; out of their own minds. There is, however, one tiny speed bump on the road to progress: moneh. Having lots of it. So the girls decide they are not going to let anything stop them from having their idealistic vacation and they pull off a crazy heist to ensure that their break is everything they want. The fact that this is the way these girls are starting their spring break is indication enough that the ensuing hour or so of the film will be nothing but insanity. Most of us don’t experience what these girls go through on their first night — for the entirety of our breaks. At least, from what we can remember….

The girls finally arrive at their destination. And because the intro to the film made such an impression — an extensive dream sequence of party guys and gals in technicolor and slow-motion shots getting doused in salt water and alcohol — we are excited that these four have finally found the action as well. By the time Brit and friends join the scene we are well buried in the psyche of spring breakers, and far removed from our normal sense of decency, control and pretty much anything that makes us people. Indeed, this is a more animalistic movie than we’ve seen in a minute. Every fantasy is quickly gratified with the help of a beer-soaked camera angle, a tinge of southern sun flare caught in the lens; and for thirty minutes this is somewhat enjoyable. Obviously, it’s not enough to sustain a film. Good thing Spring Breakers packed for more than that.

A good portion of the film consists of choppy edits that more often than not successfully refocus our attention on more important matters. Despite how grand and chaotic the parties are, there’s a darker element lurking beneath the surface, a strange liquid seeping beneath everyone’s bare feet that slap the hot concrete. The difference between having a good time and remaining safe is constantly blurred, and the trend towards glorifying the party-hard mentality makes for some disconcerting moments. At least two of the four girls are completely hell-bent on drawing the line as far as they can. One of them is not as committed, and the fourth winds up with a close call that makes even her think that this scene is too cray-cray.

If you think about this film being one gigantic party, imagine the first half or so being the actual party and the moment we meet Franco’s rapper dude “Alien” when the four girls get busted at one particularly raucous affair at a hotel, the morning/day after. It’s not so much a tonal shift we undergo in the second half as it is a more forceful approach to the message trying to be relayed throughout. At what point do we stop sacrificing dignity for a good time? At what point do we stop caring about our physical well-being for the sake of things being different for a week?

This is where Franco’s character gets to shine. As a fairly prominent rap star who’s obsessed with money, power and violence (he likes to keep Scarface on repeat on the DVD player) he poses as an interesting, if not off-kilter challenge to these girls’ thirst for spring break excitement. ‘Alien’ is immediately entranced by the fact that these ladies are willing to stick by him and see whatever it is that he does. At first that sinking feeling kicks in: what in the heck are these girls getting into? Why is there absolutely no sense of boundaries or sanctity of any kind in this film? But if you keep watching, you’re bound to find it.

Alien is a very interesting choice for Franco. Despite the fact that you can ultimately tell who it is behind that ballin’ set of gold teeth, the quaff of thin dreadlocks and that infamous Florida-tanned exterior the character is at once hilarious, insightful and something close to charming. This is due wholly to James Franco having the time of his life in this position. I waited for a long time for the dreaded twist to happen where Franco would end up doing something terrible to these poor wayward coeds, but what I got instead was a twist I was not expecting. I’m not sure if anyone expected it. I think Britney Spears helped play a hand in that.


3-5Recommendation: I would go if you’re even slightly curious about what this movie seems to be about. I almost guarantee you (sorry, no money back) that you will be surprised by the level of social commentary being made in the midst of such youthful jubilation and recklessness. If you’re seeking pure entertainment, then you’re needing a ticket in your hand. Now.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “Look at all my sh*t!!!”

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