I Am So Over You, James Franco

I've always enjoyed the antics of James Franco. He has shown himself to be interesting and committed to going about his work in different ways, which is all you can really ask for when you're in the profession I'm in. There are only so many studio press releases and "It's an honor just to be here" company lines a person can listen to in a given day without getting bored, and James Franco has never been boring. And to the extent his efforts are calculated to look as much as possible as "doing things his way," at least he was doing them. As Paul Brittain said while parodying him on SNL, "I like doing things!" And that's great! It's cute! At least, it was cute until he decided that he wanted to host the Oscars and waste three and a half hours of my life.

Franco's a smart guy, but somewhere along the line he got cocky. He can claim all that he wants that he didn't care if this particular Oscars telecast turned out to be the worst one in history. It's bullshit. Of course he cares. If he didn't care, he wouldn't have hosted it in the first place. But what he does care about is making you think that he doesn't care. And he thought that acting blasé on stage would somehow translate into entertainment. Why? Because, in his mind, America loves James Franco and his wacky hijinks.

That wasn't reality. The media (and I include myself) might love James Franco's wacky hijinks and have covered them relentlessly, and I guarantee he envisioned the headlines Monday morning to relish his "I'm above this" ambivalence. Instead, Franco quickly discovered that to most others both inside and outside the Kodak Theater, the Oscars aren't another stepping stone in his performance art project. People take this show seriously, and by being "above it" he just took a massive dump on roughly 37 million Americans who looked forward to last night. Viewers don't care if the Oscar host makes fun of the proceedings -- in fact, we appreciate when they do -- but at the very least we want to see an effort made, not someone phoning it in for the artistic sake of phoning it in.

Look at it this way: I don't watch General Hospital, and I have no idea what Franco (both the actor and the character) brought to the actual arc of the story. Maybe it worked? The nature of a show like General Hospital is probably a nice fit for Franco's personality and what he was trying to achieve, publicly, for being on the show, and as a non General Hospital watcher, from afar, I think his guest role is great: "Hey, look a that, a guy who has a strong movie career and is on a soap opera. Hilarious!" In any case, he's taking what we think a movie star's persona should be and standing it on end -- and that's interesting.

But more than ever, I could see the dedicated General Hospital fan being annoyed that Franco ever showed up to turn the soap into his pet project, because Oscars fans sure noticed as soon as Franco's shtick invaded our space. He took what we think an Oscar host should be -- i.e. one who makes an effort -- and also stood it on end. Honestly, what was the point? And is anyone surprised that it turned out this way? Did we expect him to participate in any song and dance numbers? Can we let him get away with an honest-to-God plan like, "Hey, I'll walk out in a dress and everyone will love it. Trust me." (NB: Credit where it's due: I fully expected Anne Hathaway to be a terrible Oscars host, and while she wasn't great, no one can accuse her of not trying. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if she resented her co-host, as rumors suggest.)

If Franco was trying to achieve some sort of meta hosting vibe, it was obliterated the second Billy Crystal showed up on stage. The contrast was stark -- not only in style, but reception. And Franco knew it, too, if only from the Kodak crowd's standing ovation. That feeling of mutiny trickled down to home viewers as well, relieved that the show might finally, finally achieve something like momentum.

Again, Franco advises us he doesn't care. My ass. If he didn't care, why wasn't he at his own after party last night dressed up as Jack Tripper or Balki Bartokomous or whomever he's into this week? Because he had class the next day, because he knew the game was up? He's been so used to everyone (myself included) adoring every move he's made that one bad night sent him reeling into seclusion.

In fairness, on a crisis scale like this, I probably would have done the same thing. But what's Franco's next move? Does he amp up the weird? Does he become an academia-bound recluse for the immediate future? At some point he must seriously reevaluate what he's doing and what it really means to accept a job -- especially one like "master of ceremonies," in which a global viewing audience depends on him for an entertaining evening. I mean, we know the guy can entertain; he totally deserved his Oscar nomination for 127 Hours. But I don't know if his creative headspace allows him to recognize that some institutions -- many institutions, in fact, especially the Oscars -- are bigger than James Franco. Until I get the sense that he does, I think I'm pretty much done with him.

If alienation was his goal, then great! Mission accomplished. But an even bigger accomplishment may prove his ultimate legacy. After all, before Sunday, there were really only two types of contemporary Oscar hosts: Those who gently poked fun and strove to engage us (e.g. Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg) and those whose envelope-pushing went too far, creating an awkward vibe at the theater (e.g. Chris Rock, David Letterman). I'm sure that before this year's ceremonies commenced, Franco was hoping to carve his own niche as host -- to create a third kind of host -- and he succeeded: James Franco, the host who wanted people to believe that he didn't want to be there in the first place. If nothing else, Franco's performance at the Oscars gave me new respect for those who truly mean it when they say, "It's an honor just to be here."

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  • jake says:

    I don't really get all the hate for this Oscar show. Have you people watched the Oscars before? It hasn't been entertaining for the last twenty years! Maybe longer. At least the show moved along at a good clip this year (no individual montages for each best picture nom and long song performances were totally welcome). And Franco and Hathaway were at least self aware about what the Oscars have become while cracking jokes about taking a drink for a flubbed line, joking about the smaller categories making or breaking it for people's Oscar pools, and joking about the effort to make the show "young and hip". And "Congratulations, nerds" is probably the funniest joke ever done at the Oscars. At least since David Niven's "shortcomings" line.
    So go ahead and hate on this years Oscars, since it seems like the popular thing to do, but I would much rather watch Franco's funny smugness than suffer through "Uma Oprah, Oprah Uma" any day. Why don't we get real about the fact that the Oscars are old fashioned and accept that it's just an awards, albeit the most important awards show. If the Hollywood crowd and those covering their lives were just a little more humble, we could have Gervais roasting these celebs every year and it would be so much fun. But instead everyone is crying their eyes out over Franco not being boring old what's his name from Monsters Inc.

  • Mary Jane says:

    Oh brother! First, you really wanted to sit through more cheesy oscar song and dance numbers . . . NO THANK YOU! This was one of the best Oscar shows I've ever seen. To say everyone was relieved when Crystal showed up and Franco "knew it," like he was in dispare is just idiotic. Oh my god Crystal got a standing ovation. Give me a break.

  • Chaotician says:

    Wow, Mike Ryan of Movieline is done with James Franco. Well, that's it for Franco's career then.
    Get over yourself, Movieline. Why all the Oscar hate? Whereas everyone else has moved on to the new cast of DWTS and Josh Holloway starring on the season finale of Community, you guys continue to rant on about the Oscars. Pathetic.

  • JaySin420 says:

    Franco is obviously a bit off (just google him), so that's what they get.
    If they want boring hosts they should get boring hosts and everyone will be happy.

  • GiddySpence says:

    I really loved James Franco as an Oscar host until the entire internet told me I was wrong to do so. Boy, was I mistaken!
    Eat a dick, Movieline! Except if you like eating dicks, of course - this is supposed to be punishment for being the bummer rag of the entertainment industry. 🙂

  • Smarmy Fierstein says:

    The Oscars get hated on every year, and although I thought this one was fairly boring, I cannot place the blame on Mr. Franco, or on Ms. Hathaway, who I actually thought was pretty charming, if overeager. It's the producers and writers. Once they knew they were going with Franco and Hathaway, could they have perhaps tailored the show to their strengths? Could they have gotten rid of Bruce Villanch and brought in someone fresher who would not force Franco and Hathaway into unfunny and unsuitable gags? Could the hosts have actually HOSTED the show rather than also been expected to entertaing with lame one-liners, leaving the comedy and entertainment to other people? Although the past 30 years or so have relied on a comic hosting the show, past hosts include Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Robert Shaw, Helen Hayes, John Huston, Charlton Heston, Laurence Olivier, James Stewart, Robert Montgomery . . . We don't watch the Oscars for the entertainment -- it's always been awful -- but for the stars and the movies.

  • Scraps says:

    What I really want to know is, did Goldie Hawn try to eat Steve Martin's nose at the after party!?

  • Citizen Bitch says:

    It's all so much funnier when positioned to the Virtual Newstand headline James Franco: Golden Boy

  • Welcome to my world, Mike Ryan.

  • Some Guy says:

    I'm pretty sure that the Oscar's producers knew what they were getting when they hired Franco.. Franco did Franco.. that's what he always does..

  • Anonymous says:

    Dude, first of all, do you know as the writer stated how serious people take the show? Not so much the viewing audience -- but the PRODUCERS, DIRECTORS, AND MONEY MEN in Hollywood? The Spielbergs of Hollywood? They take it seriously and betcha James (and Anne) will not be back next year. In fact, the writing staff and producers will not be back next year.
    There's a certain level of prestige to maintain. The producers made a wrong turn.
    Whenever my set goes off 1 hour into the show -- it's BAD....the Grammys were 10 times better and entertaining and maybe the Academy should hire them guys to produce next year.

  • bgl says:

    I don't think it is fair to just blame either of the hosts for everything. The show was boringly written, there were dead spots, and it just wasn't working. There was a clashing of personalities in some respects between Hathaway and Franco. She was quite lively and he looked like he wanted to sink into the floor. It just didn't work on so many levels.

  • Kristen says:

    Sorry, I've always wanted to punch him in the face.

  • jake says:

    Dear Anon,
    I wish you were smarter than you are, or knew more about the industry. But you aren't, and you don't. The show's producers change frequently. However, they've kept Bruce Vilanch around for ages doing the writing, even though if there was anything boring in the show, it was some of the writing. So thanks for your uninformed opinions and projections about future Oscar telecasts. I'm sure it means so much to me to hear from someone who didn't even watch the whole thing, but then refers to the Grammy's (which always have lower ratings) as something to be emulated.
    As is said, "better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
    The reality is that a lot of the new media writers on this and other sites are too easily swayed by Nikki Finke and whatever her opinions are. Everyone seems to just fall in line with her blogging of the Oscars rather than have an opinion of their own.
    Jake - Someone who is trying to help you to not look so dumb in the future.
    PS Feel free to hang out with "them guys" you love so much over in Grammyville.

  • Za'ba says:

    First of all, don't get carried away with the hate, Mike Ryan. You sound like someone who's been ignored/dumped by James Franco, LOL.
    You assumed that he "got cocky," just as others who are so sure that he's "high." These are just theories...Those who worked with him can testify that he doesn't do drugs (Seth Rogen) and he "appeared to be stoned" but wasn't (Danny Boyle), but then he goes off to do wonders in Pineapple Express and 127 Hours. Personally, I believe that he works so hard that his exhaustion comes off as cockiness/blase attitude. He only sleeps 3-5 hours a day. I wonder what wonders you and I can do with very little sleep.
    Writers have the tendency to exaggerate to draw attention to their column. (And you are definitely among one of them.) Admittedly, I would have loved to see James at his best (his interview at the Oscars luncheon shows a very charming & dashing James) but just because he didn't perform his best doesn't mean you should dis the guy.
    I happen to like this year's Oscars: the opening montage was funny and relevant, the one-liners were unexpected (NYU, wassup? ) and yes, the fresh new hosts were a welcome change from annoying funny men who were not funny (Letterman, Chris Rock.)
    I think what would have worked better than Bruce Vilanch's tired jokes is James teaming up with Seth Rogan (as a writer), because Seth can be a bit off-the-wall as host, but he can write funny material that kills (Pineapple Express skit at the Oscars.)

  • Ryan In L.A. says:

    I think the critics & bloggers are giving Franco too much credit. I don't think his dopey deer-in-headlights act was some cleverly designed schtick. I think he got in WAY over his head. I think he was extremely nervous. And I think the writers failed, in part, because they simply couldn't write for him. He's not loose enough to do song & dance numbers like Billy Crystal. He doesn't have the comic timing of Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin. He could barely enunciate properly from the teleprompter, much less ad-lib. Franco should take comfort in knowing that Robert DeNiro probably would've had the same problem. It was just a bad idea all around.

  • Carlos says:

    Speaking for myself, I've noticed that every year somebody whines about how terrible the Oscars were, and not always correctly. (Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were pretty good, I thought; made me laugh, anyway). But this year's? Seriously, I LOVE the Oscars, and I had to turn it off after an hour or so. It WAS that bad. It was, it was, it was.

  • Right? So February of us!
    Anyway, this will change at some point. It's out of my hands at the moment.

  • Mike Ryan says:

    Ha. Yes! I do feel like he led me along then threw me to the curb. Like I said, I really liked the guy.

  • Za'ba says:

    James is a great actor; no one says that he is a great host nor does he cares to be one. People will soon forget that they hate James for a day, and then continue to watch his movies and love him again.
    Actually, I must commend James for going back to school (Yale!) rather than do what most actors in Hollywood do - excessive partying, boozing and womanizing. At least in academia, your self worth in not tied to a project that you worked hard at and anyone in the blogosphere can cruelly and gleefully crucify you.
    At the end of the day, James has a pretty illustrious career so far, and the reviews are mixed. He has support in some quarters, and those are the ones he should listen to. But if there is a lesson here, no one can do too much at one time, be sleep deprived and perform his/her best. Not even James Franco.
    And just for the record, James, I AM NOT over you.

  • Wow. Somebody needs to get laid. This is a crazy attack piece that claims to know what is going on in James Franco's mind. It wasn't a great show, but honestly Franco was so weird during the telecast that I found myself laughing like crazy. Look, it wasn't a great performance, but does it deserve this kind of tirade... no.

  • Matt says:

    He couldn't adlib?
    Like when he said "congratu-effing-lations" after Melissa Leo's speech? You're telling me that was scripted? That's some crazily-psychic writing there...
    Also, I believe Hathaway was the one who had trouble with the teleprompter, I noticed that she mixed her words several times, and then the notorious "everyone have a drink" flub.
    Did you watch the Oscars, or did you just decide to jump in on the Franco hate?
    A poster above said it best. They hired Franco, and Franco gave them Franco. Like it or leave it, I thought he was fine personally.

  • Luke says:

    Every year the Oscars drag out and if anything, atleast Anne's optimism and chipper attitude was refreshing. Yes, James was a little too reserved- but the only really awkward part was the opening banter (post prerecorded clip).
    The constant switches between 'old' and 'new' (both in films and people) clearly was an attempt at something else- and could of worked if they re-worked it, but it's tough thing to pull off and clearly the creatives couldn't work it. Thus the major failure and out of place segments.
    All this media based criticism of the Oscars is ridiculously over done. Stop trying to force us to think it was anything else- because until I read things online about how horrible it was, I actually thought the Oscars was better than last years. I thought that it lapsed between 'old' and 'new' and there were no shocks in it at all. Now, aparently the whole show was in shambles and just horrible. Seriously... Grow up media.

  • Watcher says:

    Franco was fine. Hathaway was massively tiresome. Let's face it: the Academy Awards aren't exactly good performance art.

  • The Cantankerist says:

    Wow. I thought the opposite, almost: Hathaway was fine, Franco was warmed-over. But either way, this is really being beaten into something it wasn't for the sake of the tabloid reaction. I remember Hugh Jackman's stint having just as many dry/dull/desparate moments. Chris Rock's too, David Letterman's too, and so on and so forth. Franco did a perfectly meh job in the tradition of many Oscar hosts, and Hathaway, I thought, was actually a fair bit better than many of them.
    And in that context, the bringing out of Crystal and his response ("So, where was I?", which by the way, was the same gag he opened with for 1999, as I recall) was an act of utter bastardry. Crystal's stints as Oscar host have now taken on this untouchable, legendary patina that they don't really deserve; sure, he was sharp in that old-school Vegas style, and the song medleys were often genius, but the ceremony still went on forever and seemed like it (where this year's was actually quicker at about 3:40, and seemed like it). Nevertheless, the consensus opinion is well-understood, and that crowd are always going to rise to their feet and give Billy Crystal the long-lost-saviour reception, dumping on the current hosts in the process. It's an innately conservative response, and hence a reliable one.
    Screw that. Crystal took time to grow into his role, but was afforded that opportunity over the voices of people saying "Weeeelll, he's no Bob Hope". I'm not saying Franco/Hathaway is a match made in heaven, but neither should be summarily dismissed on the back of what is, after all, a ridiculously hysterical reaction. (People are yet to understand how Twitter works or how its responses fit into things, is my two cents.)