James Franco: You love him or you hate him, or maybe you’re just waiting to see how far he can take his singular brand of strangeness before it all comes crashing down. The relative lack of success of his most recent novel adaptations is perhaps an indication of what’s to come for the director and star of films such as the controversial The Interview and the upcoming movie The Disaster Artist, an adaptation of the memoir about the making of the worst film of all time.
In the last two years, Franco has had some disappointing encounters with the work of Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. The first example is his adaptation of the Faulkner novel As I Lay Dying. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film grossed only $15,000 and garnered 41% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s true that the tiny earnings come from just one screen, but IMDb also confirms that it premiered first at Cannes and then at the London Film Festival. One would think that such a release pedigree, coupled with the star/co-writer/director’s name would have guaranteed some success in the form of a wider release and some interest from the entertainment world.
Franco’s adaptation of The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner’s better-known effort told from multiple perspectives and out of chronological order, garnered an even lower rating of 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. This film also screened at multiple festivals in Europe and the United States, but it has yet to receive even a limited theater run in the U.S. The promotional poster itself features a sepia-toned closeup of Franco’s face and the names of two friends and frequent collaborators: Seth Rogen and Danny McBride.
This is an indication of how, eventually and if given the opportunity, Franco might be able to sell people on these smaller films: He’ll have to more actively draw in the built-in audience of his much more popular comedies, even if that means misleading advertising.
Of the three films mentioned here, Child of God, a McCarthy novel, has been the most commercially successful. It grossed more than $27,000 on a limited release of eight screens, according to IMDb, which means that moviegoers had slightly more opportunity to go see it. But, again, Franco the personality was not enough to secure a wider theatrical release, and the film itself should not expect more than inclusion in the discount bin at Costco.
On the surface, the violent plot and backwoods location seem in line with the kinds of stories independent movie watchers want to see. Reviews such as the one from A.V. Club refer to the film as a “shambles” and a “rough cut.”
It’s not clear how Franco’s brand will be affected by his repeated attempts at high-brow or literary offerings. He certainly isn’t converting fans who found him in Pineapple Express or Your Highness into erudite or at least conscious consumers of cinema. And those who are already willing to watch an adaptation of a hard-to-read novel might not think Franco is the man for the job, especially not when the sheer number of projects he’s involved in make his efforts feel more like assembly-line filmmaking than the real deal.
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