Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Documentary Feature: Francophrenia (Or: Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)

James Franco in Francophrenia
Francophrenia (Or: Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)
Directed by: James Franco and Ian Olds
Starring: James Franco

Towards the end of multi-tasking actor James Franco's delightfully bizarre pseudo-documentary, his screen alter ego 'Franco' -- who narrates for nearly the full length of the feature -- muses, "The great thing about art is it's always open to interpretation." 

And, if nothing else, regardless of whether or not you enjoy this strange, experimental mock trip into an actors psyche, Francophrenia is definitely able to provide conversational fodder for the audience to discuss after the credits roll.

Back in 2009, Franco grabbed entertainment headlines for his WTF? decision to join the cast of the daytime soap General Hospital in a recurring stint as a serial killer visual artist named, yes, Franco. While many film enthusiasts and people in the industry likely rolled their eyes at the news of what they perceived as yet another gimmick from the notoriously strange actor, his fans (myself included) laughed it off as yet another one of his creative "fuck you's" to Hollywood. The end result was that Franco was able to seamlessly straddle two types of stardom for a couple of years: The sleek and classy 'movie star' who was nominated for an Oscar and the C-list 'soap actor' who mugged for the cameras while spouting inane lines like the one that provided his feature with its subtitle: "Don't kill me, I know where the baby is!"

Francophrenia is a mock doc co-directed by Franco and Ian Olds -- an experiment whittled down to a 70-minute run time from more than 40 hours of raw, unused footage culled from an episode of General Hospital set in L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art that never aired. However, the James Franco we watch in the beginning is eventually overcome by 'Franco', the neurotic killer he portrays onscreen. Once 'Franco' takes over and sinisterly narrates the rest of the picture, this meta-doc becomes a thought-provoking, yet playful, examination of identity through performance art.
James Franco as 'Franco' in General Hospital

It opens with James Franco: Movie Star. Shots of the actor cruising around the city with the top down. Franco wandering around labyrinthine hallways, on his way to the GH set. Franco greeting rabid fans lined up behind barricades. Dressed in a suit and ready to rehearse his lines, Franco slowly makes his way down the line of his expectant fans -- an extended scene with minimal dialogue that illustrates the tediousness and repetitiveness of an actors duty to obligingly sign autographs for complete strangers. Reminiscent of a scene out of a Sophia Coppola film, it's followed up with 'Franco's gradually emerging inner dialogue: "I'm all alone in this machine."

Later on, despite the amiable expression on his face, we see that 'Franco' is, in fact, revolted by the cast and crew around him. "What am I doing here?" he wonders. When a crew member comes over to touch him on the shoulder, 'Franco' hisses, "Don't touch me!" However, 'Franco' and his ego are continually knocked down a peg by the little faceless figures on the men's washroom sign -- as in, the actual icons you see on bathroom doors in restaurants. Their hilariously flippant remarks make for some of the film's highlights -- specifically when 'Franco' responds internally.

Pretentious? Perhaps. But kudos to James Franco for trying to be a unique, young voice in Hollywood. Francophrenia is as wonderfully vague, clever, alienating, odd and open to interpretation as Franco himself. I, for one, don't ever want him to change.



  1. Sounds like a little slice of genius! And much more entertaining that Phoenix's slightly similar sounding 'I'm Not Here'. Had never heard of this so thanks very much for sharing this review! I'll definitely be finding this one!

    1. Yeah, it was a really enjoyable experience although there were a few walkouts at the screening I attended. I think it's a bit of a prerequisite that you be a fan of James Franco before watching it.

      I never saw Joaquin Phoenix's doc (I'm too scared) but they definitely do sound similar, although Franco's has very little publicity surrounding it. It feels more like a film class project, only more clever than most.

      It can be a little slow at times (especially near the beginning) but, as I said, I give him full credit for at least trying to be unique and creative.