Front Row at the Movies
Gets Attention With
“Child of God”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Actor James Franco is often referred to is a modern-day Renaissance Man. True, he acts, directs, producers, hosts the Academy Awards (well, sort of), does multimedia performance art, and writes books.
As you might expect, he’s better at some things than others.
But the 36-year-old actor is smart like a fox. He keeps his name before the public. And so we forget his flubs as soon as they are replaced by successes.
Recently, he seems to be stepping back a tad. For instance, going back to school.
He says, “I’ve been perceived as this guy yelling, ‘Hey, look at me. I want attention.’ I’m not going to school to get articles written about me. I’m just going to school. But the fact that I’m going to school or that someone takes a picture of me sleeping is like, ‘We’re gonna jump on that and criticize him for his antics.’ What antics? I write. I make movies. I’m going to school. I hosted the Oscars. I take these projects seriously.”
When he does something, he does it in a big way: He moved to New York to simultaneously attend graduate school at Columbia University’s MFA writing program, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and an MFA program for poetry at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College. And after getting his MFA at Columbia, he enrolled as a PhD student in English at Yale and has audited classes at Rhode Island School of Design.
Busy guy, he’s also stepped back a tad on a couple of his film projects, merely taking a secondary role rather than starring. While producing Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto” (based on his short story collection), he merely took the role of a licentious soccer coach. And in “Child of God” -- a film he directed -- he only plays a supporting role as Jerry.
As the most recent offering from the New York Film Critics series, “Child of God” will be showing next Wednesday night at the Tropic Cinema. As always with NYFC, you’re previewing the film ahead of its scheduled release date.
“Child of God” is based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, the reclusive novelist who gave us “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Road,” and “No Country for Old Men.” He won a Pulitzer for “The Road,” and the movie based on “No Country for Old Men” snagged four Academy Awards. McCarthy has hopes for James Franco’s version of “Child of God.”
In it, a protagonist named Lester Ballard is this so-called child of God, a 27-year-old squatter living in an abandoned house in rural Tennessee hill country. When his domicile is auctioned off, he’s reduced to sharing a shack with the body of a dead girl he finds in a car.
Sort of like a latter-day Carl von Cosel of Key West’s “Undying Love” infamy.
After the shack burns down, this necrophiliac pattern continues for Ballard (portrayed by Scott Haze). Only now he helps matters along by killing young women for this bizarre companionship.
The idea is that Lester Ballard is a child of God (and therefore worthy of our attention) because he’s “much like yourself perhaps.”
Gee, I hope not.
“It is pretty crazy,” admits James Franco. “It’s not that I, in my own life, find dead bodies particularly sexy or anything like that, but in a film, it allows you, in a very extreme way, to deal with a character whose imagination has gone to a crazy place.”
A recent celebrity roast on Comedy Central left the following impressions of James Franco. In his own words: “So if I look at that, it’s that people maybe think I’m gay (not true), they didn’t like my performance at the Oscars (true), and they think I’m very into myself (true enough) … and I squint a lot (well, yeah).”
How does he explain his publicity mongering? “Attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking,” he grins. “It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power.”
Ergo, James Franco is a powerful force in Hollywood.