Francophrenia Is A Bizarre, Hilarious Send-Up Of James Franco’s Persona

You can say what you want about James Franco and his artsy, fartsy, infuriatingly handsome, too-many-classes-taking persona, but you can’t say the guy doesn’t have a sense of humor about himself. Francophrenia (Or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where The Baby Is) might be artsy fartsy in form and content, but its winking eye is most often focused on its star and co-director, and for that, I love it.

I’m still kind of in a daze from the film’s vertiginous alternate realities, but I’ll try to summarize it briefly. Constructed from footage Franco’s own camera crew took on the set of his General Hospital stint in 2010, the film follows Franco (and his hilarious inner monologue) as he plays a crazy murderer/artist named Franco in a scene set at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The first third of the film focuses primarily on Franco’s chiseled face as he goes through the motions of an average day: getting makeup done, greeting fans, shooting scenes, etc. Sometimes the sound drops out and is replaced with ominous music as Franco’s face looks alternately pensive, frightened, tortured, and confused…or maybe just stoned. It’s hard to tell! We also get to watch him through a bunch of cameras and on a bunch of screens within a screen, because James Franco went to grad school ten times and has read Guy Debord‘s The Society of the Spectacle.

Thankfully, this extended wankery is totally undercut by the goofy, whisper-y voice that pops up in the film’s second chapter, an inner monologue that’s actually voiced by Franco’s co-director Ian Olds. In a Memento-like bout of amnesia (a favorite trope of soaps like GH), Franco’s inner voice wonders how he got there and what the fuck is going on, as his paranoia mounts and mounts. “I’m all alone in this machine, but can I figure it out?” it asks, as it repeats snatches of text taken straight from (guess what?) The Society of the Spectacle. “I went to grad school for a reason, people,” the voice says at one point. (This elicited many chuckles from the audience at the screening I attended.) Just in case anyone still doesn’t get that Franco is making fun of himself, his inner monologue gets in a fight with the two little stick figures (one able-bodied, one in a wheelchair) that inhabit the door to the men’s bathroom. These parts, with their funny voices and improbable sentience, were somewhat akin to something I might see on Adult Swim late at night when I’m sufficiently out of it to think the TV is talking right to me.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say it’s more satisfying than I was expecting from such an odd little film. All in all, I’d say it’s definitely worth a viewing if you like James Franco, and it might even win you over if you don’t. If nothing else, you have to give him props for making a film that simultaneously references Situationist philosophy and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

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