Does James Franco's SNL Documentary Praise the Show or Bury It?


Some people's student films never see the light of the day, but James Franco's NYU shorts are another story. Not only can he approach Michael Shannon at a Boston train station to star in them, but they're virtually guaranteed film festival debuts, from the homoerotic The Feast of Stephen to the Sundance-pedigreed Herbert White. Franco's latest short Saturday Night premiered this week at South by Southwest, and it's an intimate look into the backstage process of Saturday Night Live. Let's round up some reactions to it, shall we?

Indiewire's Eric Kohn found the short "compelling" and noted the unprecedented level of access the show gave to Franco:

From its very first shot, Saturday Night reveals its intention of getting intimate with the SNL production. The camera trails SNL guest host John Malkovich as he wanders around backstage, heading to a door that will place him before cameras and millions of viewers. Having established our exclusive vantage point, Franco flashes back to earlier in the week: the pitch session. The cast throw around various comical ideas, while legendary producer Lorne Michaels keeps a watchful eye on the process as its trenchant overseer. Franco catches castmember Will Forte to ask him about pitching material, but when Forte tries to give a canned answer, Franco stops him. "We know what it is," he says, "but is it all bullshit?" The question never gets answered, but the attempt to obtain a deeper truth gives Saturday Night a greater sense of candor than your average fluff piece.

Cinematical found in it clues about Casey Wilson's dismissal:

Another great part about the way Franco decided to shoot it was that the looseness of the whole thing allowed for these really great human moments from the cast, like when Casey Wilson (who has since been let go from the show) botched a "Weekend Update" Roseanne Barr impression during rehearsal, and then opened up about how embarrassing it was afterwards. The bit was then dropped from the show.

The LA Weekly's Karina Longworth, however, spelled out what the other reviews only hinted at: Did Franco's film inadvertently provide ammo for those who find SNL a dated show on the decline? Said Longworth:

Writing the show in insomniac delirium, comedians-turned-writers like John Mulaney and performer/scribes like Will Forte riff on dated cultural references (skits inspired by Liza Minnelli, Judy Blume, and the Empire Carpet commercial are batted around) that are so lifeless that they could have only been collected prior to induction into this world. These people are making comedy that's supposed to sum up our culture--a culture that has become obsessed with "sharing"--and they do it by locking themselves in an office building for a week, where they test out their material by cracking up their co-workers. Each writing session seems to devolve into uncontrollable giggles; the people who make SNL seem far more pleased with their own product than any viewer has been in a long while.