Published May 04, 2012Unsurprisingly, the documentary detailing James Franco's experience on General Hospital playing a crazed artist kidnapper is ostensibly an elaborate inside joke, playing off the hilarity of taking seriously the art of soap opera acting to a methodical Daniel Day Lewis degree.
Francophrenia is little more than an overly stylized series of behind-the-scenes vignettes during an "on location" shoot at an art gallery where his character, crazed with homosexual desires and whatever else makes affluent painters nuts, leaps to his death, as framed repeatedly throughout the documentary, comically making a metaphoric reference about falling, both figuratively and literally.
And while the stream-of-consciousness voiceover vacillates between maniacal paranoia and banality – "I can't trust that guy. Why is everyone looking at me? I'm hungry; maybe I can find a burger somewhere" – talking restroom signs mock his pretence and image performance, breaking up the repetitive shots of him walking around craft services and shooting a handful of scenes. There's also some rotoscopic animation over actual scenes from General Hospital, adding, jokingly, some integrity to the overall cheesiness of the enterprise.
In theory, this all seems amusing, expanding upon the self-deprecating nature of Franco's persona, but in reality, it's actually quite boring to watch and only manages to generate the occasional snicker when he mentions something about the relevance of graduate studies.
More interesting is the occasional artistic flourish that actually transcends the gag, such as a frenetic, anxiety-inducing sequence of photo signing where fans swarm Franco, endlessly smiling, making glib comments, wanting photos and signatures and, really, any piece of the celebrity than can get. This notion of celebrity identity as image construction, as defined by the gaze and framing of the works they perform in, is exaggerated by the inherent comic hyperbole of Franco becoming indistinguishable from the character he portrays on General Hospital.
Of course, it's all just self-indulgent, pretentious nonsense that's tedious to watch, but there are moments of intrigue within that provoke some thoughts, which is something. (Rabbit Bandini)