You probably already know this already, but James Franco is a bit of a jack of all trades. Best known as an actor in movies, television, and now on the stage, he is also a writer, director, and poet. Yeah, the guy certainly has varied tastes and interests. Now he is trying his hand at film criticism, and if you guessed that his are not your standard, run of the mill movie reviews, you would be correct.
James Franco’s first film review column just went up today over at Indiewire, and his dissection of the new German horror thriller Goodnight Mommy is not what you probably expected. Not a traditional movie review, instead Franco frames his take on the film as a discussion, but not a discussion between two people, it’s a discussion between James Franco and Semaj, his so-called “reverse self.”
To be fair, I’m not entirely sure how to best describe this set up, so let’s let Franco himself give you the run down in a statement he wrote explaining his new column, and how it’s not exactly a review—he doesn’t want you to make that mistake. Keep in mind, he wrote this.
This is a column where James Franco talks to his reverse self, Semaj, about new films. Rather than a conventional review, it is a place where James and Semaj can muse about ideas that the films provoke. James loves going to the movies and talking about them, but a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review.
In case you were wondering, part of why Franco wants to make it very clear up front that the discussions between himself and Semaj are very much not movie reviews is because it could negatively impact his career in Hollywood. No filmmaker wants a bad review, but when it comes from an actor you’re going to work with, it’s even worse. He continues:
As someone in the industry it could be detrimental to James's career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry — where writers review other writer's books — the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems. So, assume that James (and Semaj) love all these films. What they're interested in talking about is all the ways the films inspire them, and make them think. James is me, and Semaj is the other side of me.
Like with many of the things James Franco does that fall outside of mainstream films like This is the End and The Interview—including an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, hosting the Oscars, and directing dance theater, among others—this feels almost like performance of a different sort, some kind of public experiment.
The resulting not-a-review of Goodnight Mommy walks a fine line between being pretentious, amusing, and legitimately insightful. Franco and Semaj go back and forth about traditional horror tropes, and how the film fits into those, while still delivering something that sets it apart. Interspersed with actual discussion of the movie, they spiral off on tangents about The Notebook, Franco’s dating habits, why twins are creepy, and a variety of other topics.
Reading his column will very likely leave you scratching your head, but at the very least, it’s worth checking out for the sheer bizarre spectacle of it all. And in the end, that feels like the ultimate point.