James Franco has made a name for himself in pictures primarily as an actor. He received an Oscar nomination for 127 HOURS and acted in hits like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and FREAKS AND GEEKS. Though credited with 39 directorial credits, the films he has directed have been mediocre at best.
In ZEROVILLE, made a few years back and only just released, James Franco stars and directs himself as Vikar a wannabe Hollywood celebrity. He more than meets his match in the form of outrageous characters such as Seth Rogen’s APOLCALYPSE-type director, Will Farrell’s producer, Megan Fox’s starlet and Jacki Weaver’s editor. But it is though Dotty, the editor that Vikar learns the game. “Fuck continuity. It is the passion that is the editing.” is what Vikar believes after watching how the kissing scene between Elizabeth Tylor and Montgomery Clift was edited in A PLACE IN THE SUN.
ZEROVILLE requires one to have sufficient knowledge of old movies to fully appreciate what director James Franco intends. One such movie is the 1951 George Steven’s film A PLACE IN THE SUN that starred Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor. Vikar (Vikar with a K is what he called himself) has a shaved head and ridiculous moustache. He loves Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor so much that he has both Taylor and Clift tattooed on his shaved head.
Franco must totally believe the spill on continuity as his film does not pay much attention to continuity. One scene had him break a car widow. No blood shown, nothing and another has his hand in a bandage. Though his film aims high, it is a mess without much direction with the characters shouting all over the place a lot of the time. The Vikar character in contrast just broods along with a sullen look. But the film contains isolated hilarious bits.
The film funniest segment has what is supposed to be the filming of the Arthur Hiller 1970 film LOVE STORY based on the Erich Segal novel. Ali McGraw cannot distinguish between the lines “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” and “Love means never ever having to say you’re sorry” which requires so many takes that she storms out in frustration. Another one that matches is the one where Vikar is interrogated by the cops, being a suspect in the Sharon Tate murders. The film has shades of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Both films are set in 1969, Hollywood.
Of the classics, these must be Franco’s favourites, as their names keeping popping up. They are A PLACE IN THE SUN, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, SUNSET BOULEVARD, CASABLANCA, JOAN OF ARC and THE SEARCHERS, even though Vikar considers John Wayne as a hontytonk racist pig. The film has clips from John Ford’s MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, JOAN OF ARC and a 3 Stooges clip.
ZEROVILLE ends up a pretty bad movie. It just wanders around just as its protagonist Vikar with a little aim but loses purpose on its way. At least it is good for a few laughs.