Thursday, March 3, 2011

James Franco: bad Oscar host or wise sage?

So much Oscar gossip, so little time.

If you didn’t watch, probably the most dramatic thing about the Oscars last Sunday (because nearly all of the winners were known in advance) was James Franco’s unbelievably lackluster performance, which even he predicted in this video he posted on Twitter. Not a half an hour into the ceremony, Franco was so out of it that Twitter and Facebook were inundated with questions about his sobriety. The main question being, is Franco high????

I have no idea if Franco was high, but I know he was not exactly into hosting the Oscars, which was the polar opposite of his co-host Anne Hathaway, who worked hard enough for the both of them. He was so not into that he didn’t even go to his own after-party, instead flying back east the same night.

I know Franco is going to school right now—studying to get his Ph.D. in literature (at Yale no less). And I remember a few weeks ago, he was on The Daily Show talking about his Oscar nomination, which had been announced that morning right before he’d gone to class. Stewart then asked if anyone in his class had congratulated him on the nom, and without even thinking about it, Franco said no. “No one said anything?” Stewart asked, skeptical, and Franco had to admit that his classmates at Yale couldn’t give a shit about the Oscars. (At least that’s how Franco read it, but it’s also possible they’re pretending not to care, which is what I really believe.)

I guess this brings me to my point—maybe Franco didn’t care about hosting the Oscars because he has bigger fish to fry—or if not bigger, then at least better. This is a guy with serious aspirations—he’s an actor (in three different venues—film, television, and daytime television), a short story writer, a filmmaker, and a scholar. That might explain why getting dressed up in a thousand-dollar tux to go to the biggest party of the year to honor a bunch of people who are honored every day may not seem like a huge priority. Sure, Franco should have said no if he wasn’t going to do his best, but I can see why it wasn’t that important to him. Because in the big scheme of things, it just wasn’t that important.

Fun, yes. Important, no.

Which might be why Franco was at his best in the ridiculous skits in which he dressed up like Marilyn Monroe or donned the tights of a ballet dancer a la Black Swan. (By the way, if you ever feel bad about the way you look in a dress, just picture Franco as Monroe, who looked wonderfully absurd.)

As one Tweeter said Sunday night, “The Oscars are a pointless, trivial, gross popularity contest that rarely honors the true best of the year. I will be glued to the screen.” Maybe Franco is simply more in the former camp than the latter one.

Franco’s uninspired performance doesn’t directly relate to the topic of this blog, but in a tangential way it speaks to the same issue. That is, the issue that there are more important things in the world than how you look in a tight dress or how white your teeth are. On the red carpet the other night, Natalie Portman claimed that, though she likes attending these ceremonies, it’s the rest of us who are lucky because we get to sit at home and watch in our sweats. I have to say, Franco’s resurrection of his Pineapple Express character was pretty entertaining from my spot on the sofa, but I imagine it might have felt mighty awkward—even scary—from the seats of the Kodak theatre.

For years, I fantasized about going to the Oscars and still a part of me wants to go some day, but lately I’ve come to realize Portman’s point—it’s probably more fun to watch on the sofa than attend.

For that reason, I won’t join the hordes of Americans who are bemoaning Franco’s performance this week. Instead, I’ll thank him for reminding me that though watching the Oscars is a lot of fun, it’s also pretty darn silly and something none of us should take too awfully seriously.

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