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Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the last of James Franco

Mar 14, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 25 • By JOE QUEENAN
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The decision to have Franco host the Oscars perplexed many observers. Was he any relation to the Generalissimo? Didn’t he used to pitch for the Mets? But if Franco is not yet a household name, even after hosting the Oscars, this is because for much of his career he has been used as little more than eye candy by cynical directors. Franco serves a primarily decorative function in most of his early movies, squinting his way through Tristan and Isolde, In the Valley of Elah, The Dead Girl, and Camille. In fact, his best work to date may be his portrayal of James Dean in the 2001 biopic about the brooding fifties superstar. Perhaps in reaction to this sort of crass stereotyping by directors and producers, Franco adapted a grungy look in Date Night, Pineapple Express, and 127 Hours, sporting the kind of wan, indecisive mustache normally associated with wheedling card sharps and the Sheriff of Nottingham. This is called playing against type. And it’s working.

One concern about Franco’s career is that, like Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Ethan Hawke before him, Franco risks spreading his abundant talents too thin. Leonard Bernstein, a wondrous conductor, gifted pianist, and inspired composer of Broadway shows, never wrote anything to rival Bartók or Stravinsky, and many feel it was because he refused to focus his talents in any one area. The same fate could befall James Franco. At some point this hyperactive, intellectually ravenous, squinting young supernova must decide whether he wishes to be known as the director of cutting-edge films, the author of brilliant short fiction, the iconoclastic painter, or the superlative squinting actor who just totally clocks—I mean clocks—Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express.

For my money, I’d like to see him go down the same path as De Niro, Olivier, and Bogie. Anyone who totally clocks Seth Rogen is going places. Like, straight to the top.

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of Closing Time: A Memoir.

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