Wednesday, January 12, 2011

FRANCO: The Artist Who Somethings, Whatever, I Forget

When I was in middle school, I caught the celebrity crush-bug, hard. Like so many of my little-girl peers, who were boy-crazy in a way that meant talking to actual boys was terrifying, I instead opted to become mildly obsessed with some of the more telegenic young studs of my generation, including Jonathan "JTT" Taylor Thomas. He played one of the sons on Home Improvement! He was the voice of Young Simba in The Lion King! He did a rain dance with Chevy Chase in Man of the House, a movie so bad I'm surprised the universe hasn't collapsed in around my parents' basement, where it's currently being archived on VHS for future generations to ruin themselves with. In high school, I fell in with the skinny weirdo Eric Foreman, as played by skinny weirdo Topher Grace (I actually have no idea if he's weird or not, but mofo is undeniably lean): he was awkwardly in love with his hot Amazonian neighbour, was hilarious without being stupid, and wore desert boots, which hold an inexplicable power over me. While everyone else swooned over Danny "Hyde" Masterson, I was all about the Foreman.

Anyway, I wasn't much for most celebrities: my high-school self papered my room with oversaturated ad campaigns and panels from Ghost World. I'm more fascinated by female celebrities, in a way: dudes tend to be either Messy (Bret Michaels) or Dressy (Joshua Jackson), and everybody basically looks the same in a suit. Oh, sure, there are attractive dudes out there in Hollywoodland - I have a soft spot for Community's Donald Glover, who also raps and is h-o-t, along with Say Anything-era Jon Cusack, who is approachably hot without blowing the roof off it, unlike, say, Angelina Jolie, whose hotness makes me resent her a little. But aside from making sure to watch That '70s Show every time it was on, I was like, "Meh, dude celebs."

It's hard for me to find celebrities I relate to. I sort of love the Olsen Twins, even though they're insane and prone to tottering around in skyscraper heels and looking simultaneously twelve and 160 years old. They seem like most parts of their day are giant art experiments, but I'll admit to being shallow and less interested since Mary-Kate quit being anorexic and they both quit acting in contractually obligated DVD travelogue messes and took up smoking and caftans. Siiigghhh. And it's like, sure, everyone would make out with Bill Murray, or Jim from The Office, or Harvey Birdman. But those are obvious choices.

But I think I've found a new man, a new leading dude, a fascination. He's been on the radar for a while, but this is really James Franco's season, and I, for one, am embracing it.

All right, I'll admit to being disgusted by James Franco when he first sort of got big a few years ago, but it's not totally my fault. Back then, he was presented to the public as some sort of heir to the James Dean crown - mostly because he had played Dean in a biopic, but also because he was serious and pillow-lipped and good-looking and talented, and was packaged with nary a sense of humour. It was like, "SEE! The troubled young man! HEAR! The revving of his career's engines! SNEER! POUT! Yes, you're an animal!" et cetera, and he was ALWAYS photographed in black and white, wearing a leather jacket. It was like, Dude, we GET IT.

But then he started taking on more interesting roles, roles that weren't clearly designed to make him into a heartthrob or Dean 2.0. One of his first roles was as Daniel Desario on Freaks and Geeks, a show that launched a generation of actors (Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips) and written with both snap and pathos - i.e. the perfect blend of high school existence. Daniel was a moody sumbitch, dating the harridan Kim Kelly, encased in a creaky leather jacket, alternately too cool for school and desperately lonely in his tough-guy posturing. And he brought it while he was nineteen years old.

And then he was in Spiderman, which seems to be his one gargantuan Hollywood blockbuster - Franco's quietly kept the door open to less bombastic projects, including Milk (gay Sean Penn), Pineapple Express (stoner movie, with explosions), 127 Hours, (arm!) and, my personal favourite, General Hospital, in which he played a character named Franco and got his real-life mother cast as his on-screen mother, and generally just meta'ed the place up so badly I don't even know if it was an elaborate, hilarious-for-Franco joke or what.

Plus he's all productive: currently attending, like, six different PhD programs for writing, painting, and Pinky-and-the-Brain-ing, he just published a book of short stories, has the best sad face on the West Coast, posed in drag, has taken on multiple gay roles and then talks about it like it ain't no thang, and rides the divide between Messy and Dressy so well it makes my vagina sad. He's a busy man, but he seems like he'd be fun. Finally - this Franco has left the humourless Dean-robot in the last century and actually seems like a total hoot.

So enjoy it, Franco! You can act, that's for damned sure, and if being attractive and back-to-backing stoner movies with Oscar bait ever gets boring, I'm fairly sure you're the type of soul who could waltz into a Waffle House and find something fun about hanging out behind the deep-fryer. My only request is that continue to be a nut-job, a man with brains and balls and the ability to turn a venerable soap opera into Franco's Hour Of Whatever The Hell Is Going On, and that you write a dishy biography sometime soon (or not - make us wait!) that talks about your on-set prank wars and that includes a recipe for sour cherry bars, because I will buy that monster and frame select passages. In other words: stay weird, Franco. I like you best that way.

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