HotDocs 2012: FRANCOPHRENIA (or Don't Kill Me, I Know Where The Baby Is) Review
I will be brief, as to not waste too much of your time, as it would be doubly a crime for Francophrenia to kill the sum of my 70 minutes viewing the thing, another hour writing about it, and then presumably, your 3 minutes reading it. The film is an experimental documentary shot on the set of an all-night shoot for the soap opera General Hospital. A small videographer crew followed around actor (and one-time Oscar host) James Franco to record his down time between takes, his interactions with his fans and the usual tedium that happens on film (or TV) sets while the crew setup up and block out scenes. Ultimately, however, the cameras did not capture much in the way of interest, perhaps not even enough enough for a General Hospital puff-piece. The actor handed the hours of footage over to director/editor Ian Olds (Fixer, Occupation: Dreamland) to do whatever he could with it. To mould and massage it into ... something. The result, including a self-aware but still quite clueless voice-over by Franco to hold the rickety mess together, is so thin a premise (or a statement on celebrity) that it qualifies merely as a home-movie lark at best. Olds and Franco should have kept this only to show their friends, and not foist it on a paying audience.
Make no mistake, I have rarely met a meta film that that did not turn my crank in some fashion; appreciation abounds for films from Weekend to I'm Still Here. These films, however, have some pointed things to say. If you are going to go all self-aware, it is appreciated that a point of some sort is on the way. At one point during the film, Franco pleads directly to the audience, "Are you there? Please don't go!" It should be funny because it is true - the film is pushing beyond tedious by only the twenty minute mark- but it still falls flat. It simply lays there as something painfully obvious. Yes, celebrities are often treated like show-puppets or zoo animals by their fans; to pose for photos and sign everything in sight. Yes, there is not a lot of depth or common sense in the plot lines of daytime Soaps. And yes, comedy is highly subjective. But when the icons on the men's room door literally start to function as a Greek chorus to Franco's barely contextualized goof-ball reaction-shots - somebody had their bad idea jeans on that day. Maybe you will find meaning in the actor, personal or General Hospital character Franco hiding in this attempt to amp up the mundane by merely underscoring the banality. I hope I have not accidentally sold this film to the very fans that the actor has a go at with this experiment. Self deprecation is an art. This film is artless.
Move along, folks, nothing to see here.
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