The Franco Files — #4


Welcome to May, and the fourth edition of The Franco Files! This most recent addition to the site takes an in-depth look at an actor and how that individual helps shape a film in whatever capacity they are able to, whether it be the lead or a supporting role type. Originally I was drawing this little feature up as a way to express the ways in which I love James Franco. This was supposed to be the place where I shouted my appreciation for the Palo Alto-born actor’s efforts from the top of a mountain.

Actually it still is, but I guess I’m discovering that I’m much less familiar with his body of work than I previously thought. TFF, as it is turning out, is becoming an educational tool for me as well as a platform from which I can still, yes, wax poetic about. . .you know, that thing he does. Considering we are only on the fourth edition here, I’m finding that I am going to have to do more research on the guy than I thought. I’m pretty sure I’m already running low on performances that I know like the back of my hand.

But that’s okay, though. I’m happy with having to do a little more digging before jumping into a discussion of some of his more obscure performances here in a little while. Not all of the things he’s been in are highly accessible productions, either. And then there’s always the constant influx of new movies he’s in, or helping to make. Like Palo Alto (released this weekend), an interesting-sounding story in which he appears to be involved in both capacities.


Francophile #4: James Franco, This is the End

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: James Franco’s James Franco might will be the most meta thing he’s ever done. Then again, he was only doing his job as per This is the End‘s script, the very ridiculous story of a group of Hollywood friends who hold up in Franco’s house as the apocalypse unfolds quite literally on the doorstep. Like his co-stars, Franco plays a trumped-up version of himself that tends to exaggerate the negative qualities of his real-life celebrity. For example, there’s a sweater Franco wears throughout the film that screams “You should hate me for wearing this, but you know you want one too.” Then there’s his fascination with art. One gets the sense the REAL Franco could very well be half-hipster, given his affinity for style and appreciation of the visual arts. (Not to mention, his home, which I referred to as his fortress in my review, is the product of geometric obsession.) He’s sinful, silly and sensational all at once — a thoroughly clever creation.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: quite literally that — the James Franco factor. Despite a grab-bag of hilarious characters to latch onto, his is actually quite key to the film. Much of the plot development hinges around his character and particularly his home. But more importantly, he feels part of this crew of comedians who have known one another for a long time. There’s an undeniable chemistry he holds with everyone involved, and there’s a very particular reason for that. If Franco goes, everyone goes. The project ceases to exist.

Out of Character: “People know I’m interested in art. I just went to school for it and for a while I was collecting [art] — I sold most of it awhile ago so I could go to school and not work so much. So it was kind of a funny idea that the Franco character would be collecting art, and Seth asked me if there was any particular artist that I wanted to have in the character’s house. And I thought, there’s a way to take this to a different level. There’s a painter that I really like named Josh Smith — his work is hard to place because a lot of it has a very humorous feel, even though it’s abstract work. Josh was interested. Not only interested, but wanted to create new work, and it would be special because it would be work that was only intended for this movie. And as Josh and I were talking, we came on the idea that we could do the paintings together. Josh and I spent two days together and we painted a lot, through the night, ten huge paintings and a bunch of little ones.”

Rated the Performance (relative to his other work):


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This Is The End


Release: Wednesday, June 12, 2013


God creates the world in seven days; Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen create a worthwhile comedy about the destruction of it in an hour and forty-five minutes.

Of the many comedies that revolve around pot-smoking, penis-joke telling, and other appropriately inappropriate gross-out gags, This Is The End seems to be a “Best Of” all of that, plus some. Set against a Los Angeles that is getting torn apart by apocalyptic events, it displays the behavior of six friends who become trapped together in the same house (that of James Franco, as it so happens) as they try desperately to survive.

The film is a regular Ocean’s Eleven of jokesters. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and James Franco make up the first-billed, and are all cast as themselves. Ordinarily I would have thought that idea to be relatively distracting from the plot but in this case it really works and actually enhances the experience, when you consider how the first third of the film is written and performed. Beyond them, This Is The End finds room to squeeze in the likes of Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Emma Watson, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari and even Rihanna.

Alright, well that’s enough name-dropping to last the next few posts, despite the fact that there are even more than that in the big party in the beginning. The biggest surprise beyond this impressive list of names is that each one of these characters are hilarious for the limited time they have before things go completely crazy; before things go from funny to hilarious.

Jay is in town visiting Seth when Seth decides he will give his best buddy another chance to get to know some of his Hollywood friends and acquaintances. Jay plays a very awkward version of himself (which I’m not sure how much acting was really going on here; I see this guy as awkward to begin with — even though that doesn’t rule out the fact that I’d still love to meet him), so he doesn’t give the huge party at James Franco’s new mansion much of a chance and soon wants to duck out to buy some more cigarettes. When the two depart, strange things start happening and before they know it, everything (and almost everyone) are on fire and they get back to Franco’s posthaste.

The second act largely revolves around what I’m henceforth referring to as Franco Manor — an exquisitely designed concrete building with iPads built into the walls and large televisions popping out of the floors, not to mention a few pieces of artwork James is particularly proud of. As the outside world continues to fall apart, the massive party is broken up, leaving only but our six main guys to fend for themselves — armed with only what they have inside Franco Manor.

Food and water are of course in short supply since making trips into town is no longer a viable option. The guys embark on both a physical and mental journey that will reveal both damnable and redemptive qualities to each person who is still alive.

This film is satisfying on two levels: as an outrageous comedy and as a rather intriguing story. I thought that after the likes of Superbad, the directing duo of Rogen/Goldberg could not possibly outdo themselves. This Is The End may not be a revelation in terms of its comedic material but the heartfelt acting and constantly subversive tone works in it’s favor, especially when it’s set against something as ‘serious’ as the end of days. There’s really no limit to how much fun the characters are making of one another’s careers. The self-references include everything from their early days to the latest ‘sell-out’ phases they’re going or have gone through. We have seen bits and pieces of this kind of awareness in Rogen and Goldberg movies before, but nothing quite to this level. Best of all, it doesn’t really get old because it is so ironic that in this time they are able to still have the most insignificant of quarrels with one another.

As far as the plot goes, it too is worth mentioning. In referencing their 2007 hit, Superbad, I was doubtful any effort afterwards would be as compelling as the story of teens on the cusp of early adulthood, who fight to know their place in a world that doesn’t make much sense outside of high school. Superbad, as perverse and sexist as it may be, is a classic coming-of-age tale. It may arguably be the best thing that these two will ever do, but in 2013 Rogen and Goldberg seem to have yet again struck gold.

Contrasting movie star vanity with the sudden need to repent and do good things in the face of (damn near) certain death serves as solid commentary on the human condition.


4-0Recommendation: Here is a very strong entry into the hilarious, if short, canon of Rogen/Goldberg gross-out/stoner flicks. Even though it is jam-packed full of their signature comedic tastes, it will likely appeal to a wider audience since there is far more going on than what at first meets the eye. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

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