James Franco, or the Dada Host

I did not have the pleasure of watching the Oscars, but I wanted to, because I think James Franco is a funny guy. So I did what I could on a computer with a slow internet connection to try and measure Franco’s performance. This is a selction of what I found.

Salon tried to get in Franco’s head, Matt Zoller Seitz could not understand his hosting performance:

James Franco had a feeling this Oscar hosting gig was a bust when he ambled onstage dressed as Marilyn Monroe and the crowd at the Kodak Theater took entirely too long to register that it was him. And when theydid figure it out — somewhere around the time that Franco said, “I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen!” — they just sort of tittered politely.

Maybe, Franco thought, there’s more to entertainment than just being in the room. Maybe performance is more than a concept to be explored via metafiction and academic jazzing-around. Maybe you just plant your feet and say your line with some energy and try to connect with the audience and hope it works. Maybe it’s as simple as flipping a switch: Decide to give a damn and you give a damn, and the audience does, too.

Lisa de Moraes from the WashPo put it this way:

This year, the motion picture academy decided to go with co-hosts whose big selling point was their age: Franco and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway worked hard to keep us awake during the show, including a breathtaking number of outfit changes.

Franco phoned it in for three hours and change.

Bill White from themorningcall.com agrees that the Oscars were a bust but does not blame it all on the presenters, Franco:

Co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco are absorbing a lot of abuse today, but really, they just were living up to their public images — Hathaway over-the-top perky and Franco a heavy-lidded stoner. They combined for a mildly entertaining opening and a mildly funny joke here and there. Honestly, can you think of any recent hosts who bowled you over? I can’t.

In the face of a show where the highlights are the tiny clips used to introduce the nominees, there’s not a lot a host can do, except to be quick enough on his/her feet to ad lib some good wisecracks about the silliness. That’s why Billy Crystal was the most successful host most of us have seen. He doesn’t need a script.

Steven Zeitchik from the LATimes did some reporting on some of the odd moments of the Oscars, providing some context that rescues many of them into normalcy. Franco, however, had no explanation:

James Franco: Well, this one stumps us too. Did he genuinely not care, or did he just want to make it seem as though he didn’t care? More important, do we care?

We care, or at least, I care. Because I had the sneaking suspicion that Franco was going to be dwelling in a little performance art, and judging by these reactions, he did, he dwelt. But the case is still open, and nothing is certain. We continue to explore. From The Tech Daddy (Ken Gruberman), or just-another-serf at the HuffPo, a brutal review of this year’s Oscars, but not one that focused on the Franco:

But the real problems with the show this year were not with the hosts. Rather it was with the producer/director Don Mischer — who really should know better — and the writing staff. There were PAINFULLY awkward moments in the show, odd transitions that didn’t make sense, continuity problems, lack of info to the viewing public, and really bad presenter “banter.” TRULY bad. Like the byplay between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law — totally inappropriate. Did the world really need to be reminded of Downey’s previous debauchery? Is that supposed to be funny? Or Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johanssen’s stunningly un-funny banter (“sound!”) There were so many bits that just went nowhere, such as Franco’s walk-on as Marilyn Monroe.

Rolling Stone championed this one with a report that confirmed my suspicion. Perhaps his awkwardness was planned, and therefore spot-on. This is the Franco who acts in soap operas because he wants to, the Franco who called out Meredith Vieira on the “Today Show” for telling Colin Firth he would win the Oscar for the best actor, the Franco who is getting university degrees because he wants to and because he can, the Franco who published a book of short stories, the Franco who plays a young Allen Ginsberg in “Howl,” a movie he produced. This was Rob Sheffield’s review:

Come on: James Franco was kind of brilliant last night. He treated the Oscars like his own avant-garde conceptual art project, like the way he went on General Hospital for kicks and giggles. Like, what if an insanely pretty boy got up on TV in front of a billion people, and did nothing but smirk and squint and stare off into the distance and look embarrassed to be there? What if he barely said a word, just contemplating his own hotness and flashing his John-Mayer-post-lobotomy grin? What a bold statement on modern alienation! Like the tragic hero of Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, he stood trapped behind a mirror, unable to make human contact, cursed to face his own reflection alone. Duuuude! I hope he got at least a B+ for that in his “Media Tedium Strategies” seminar.

I am signing off with this video, evidence that there was some effort involved in hosting, even if the video did not air.

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