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Ranked: James Franco's Careers
Experts help us critique Hollywood's most famous polymath.
By Virginia Smith
James Franco is many, many, many things (seriously, he's lots of things), but he's nothing if not a paradox. On the one hand, he solidly proves the theory that unfairly attractive, wealthy, and/or famous people can more or less just prance around doing whatever they want, all the time. On the other, no matter what new pursuit he decides to take up in a given week, he's almost always good at it. Now that he's officially adding "musician" to his resume with the release of a new EP, we're consulting experts in his numerous fields to get a 100% objective look at his talents. Below, his career choices from worst to best.
9. Award-Show Host
If you have to spend weeks of follow-up interviews after a gig insisting you weren't high on the job, things went pretty seriously amiss. Which is why Franco's job as Oscars co-host with Anne Hathaway ends up here: dead last. As gratifying as it is to imagine him getting blazed before emceeing an event as self-serious as the Oscars, actually watching the appearance was dull and uncomfortable. Reviews were scathing; the Washington Post wrote that our hero "came off like that lacrosse boy you wish your daughter didn't hang out with so much, sort of heavy-lidded and smirky." Ouch. In fairness, the debacle wasn't entirely his fault given what he had to work with, and Franco said in a recent interview, "I felt kind of trapped in that material." Still, let's hope he learned that it wouldn't kill him not to say yes to everything.
Usually, when actors want to branch out into side-projects the first thing they do is start a band, not explore performance art or enroll in several grad schools at once. Franco earns points for trying just about every other side-hustle before giving into the inevitable. Plus, his collaboration with Brooklyn-based musician and performance artist Kalup Linzy is actually interesting and pretty catchy. Fader's Alex Frank spoke for us all when he wrote, "We're sort of surprised that the song's good." Still, though Franco reportedly "sends [Linzy] music he likes" to riff off of and "both do vocals and produce their own tracks," the singles and the one video they've released thus far come across mainly as a Kalup Linzy project that Franco happened to sit in on, not a serious collaboration. Since Franco's chops as a musician are still pretty untested, we'll have to wait for further evidence before moving this one higher up on the list.
Franco published a short-story collection called Palo Alto in the fall of 2010. Critics were mixed. "Most of it is better than what comes in off the MFA slush pile," says Full Stop founder and editor-in-chief Alex Shephard, "though in his acting Franco's known for taking left turns, and sadly you don't see that instinct in these repetitious stories. But he does show flashes of promise, like an embryonic Brett Easton Ellis or, better yet, Dan Chaon." Not quite a runaway success, but given that his mentor is acclaimed novelist Gary Shteyngart, and that his stories have also landed in Esquire and McSweeney's, Franco-as-author is worth keeping an eye on.
6. Studio Artist
Franco's opened shows of paintings, videos, and installations at galleries including Clocktower in New York City and Peres Projects in Berlin, and he's said in various interviews that he actually dreamed of enrolling in art school when he was younger, but put it aside to pursue acting. He seems to have chosen wisely. As with his work as an author, Franco's studio art is by and large received as earnest but not groundbreaking. Pieces have included collections of his childhood items strewn in a gallery, and video installations of a toy house being shot with BB guns. The New York Times called one show "a confusing mix of the clueless and the halfway promising," which we suppose could be worse.