The Disaster Artist ★★★


James Franco is a bit of an enigma. Following his breakout in the television series 'Freaks and Geeks' (1999-2000) and Sam Raimi’s 'Spider-Man' films (2002-2007), Franco has become a ubiquitous presence as an actor: shoring up broad, bro-friendly comedies ('Pineapple Express' [2008], 'This Is the End' [2013]); appearing in projects from esteemed directors like Gus Van Sant ('Milk' [2008]) and Danny Boyle ('127 Hours' [2010]); and taking roles in television series ranging from day-time soap operas ('General Hospital' [2009-2012]) to prestige dramas ('The Deuce' [2017]). Like a Nicolas Cage with more creative integrity, Franco seems game for almost any role that is offered to him, so long as he finds it stimulating. Regardless of the project, it’s the actor's eager, malleable magnetism that consistently leaves the strongest impression. He is uniquely capable of simultaneously radiating a regular-guy ease and the narcissistic fervor of an armchair philosopher-artist—even when his charisma is turned on its head to menacing effect, as in Gia Coppola’s 'Palo Alto' (2013).

However, Franco has also evolved into a prolific writer, director, and producer, one whose artistic choices often baffle observers. How is one to explain his attempt, with co-director Travis Mathews, to reconceive the production of Williams Friedkin’s exploitative gay crime thriller 'Cruising' (1980) as the peculiar, meta-fictional 'Interior. Leather Bar.' (2013)? Or his relentless campaign to adapt the works of American literary luminaries such as Cormac McCarthy ('Child of God' [2013]), William Faulkner ('The Sound and the Fury' [2014]), and John Steinbeck ('In Dubious Battle' [2016]), efforts that have reliably been met with critical jeers?

The generous reading of Franco’s eccentric career as a filmmaker is that, as with his actorly choices, he is unfailingly catholic, willing to tackle any project that he feels passionate about—even when it proves tone-deaf, ill-conceived, or just plain inexplicable. To his credit, even his most questionable and pompous auteurist ventures never exhibit the sort of affected insouciance that many artists don like armor against failure. One gets the sense that Franco always wants viewers to *like* his work, whether he’s playing an affable stoner goofball or making an ungainly hash out of a Great American Novel...

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