There's just something about James Franco's films, extensive postgraduate studies, and occasional forays into awards show hosting that rubs people the wrong way. Even The Atlantic Wire has been known to wear down under the breadth of his side interests, which is why "James Franco to do new thing that isn't acting" was the subject of an entry in our Cliché Watch series back in February.
In retrospect, that headline (which was inspired by the news he was joining the Los Angeles Review of Books as a contributing editor) seems somewhat harsh, but at least we gave him credit for doing something not typical of a young Hollywood leading man. In a new blog post today at The American Scholar, memoirist and graduate school attendee William Deresiewicz doesn't even concede that Franco's not like all the other young actors. Rather than making him a frustrating oddity, Deresiewicz argues that obtaining an MFA at Columbia, in addition to studying film at New York University, fiction at Brooklyn College, creative writing at the University of Houston, fiction again at Yale University, and poetry at Warren Wilson College, all just serve to make him painfully ordinary. He explains:
Franco is unique, but in a totally typical way. He is the reductio ad absurdum of today’s high-achieving young person, the kind who gets into places like Yale and Columbia by doing 15 extracurricular activities and taking 11 AP courses. How can they all be so brilliant, so gifted, so energetic? The answer is, they’re not. No one is. They just show up, and thanks to the miracle of grade inflation, as well as the rhetorical inflation of the modern recommendation letter, showing up is enough. These are the people who are going to be running our country soon.
As blistering, counter-intuitive Franco criticisms go, that even exceeds the Washington Post's Hank Steuver calling him "that lacrosse boy you wish your daughter didn't hang out with so much" in his review of this year's Oscars telecast.
Still, we wished that instead of labeling Franco "a moderately talented young actor" (not entirely true, and way too mean) and casting doubts on whether he possesses "a Leonardo-level intellect" by quoting not-so-great passage from one of his short story collections ("the building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-clear"), Deresiewicz had explored the question of just how selective America's post-graduate programs are if Franco can be spread so thin. There's also the question of how "typical" Franco can be of American young people when he's 33-years-old.
In particular, Deresiewicz's remark that when he got his PhD at Columbia he "scarcely had time to see a movie, let alone make one," feels like sour grapes. Plus Franco could always argue that Your Highness wasn't a real movie, something that America's film critics would undoubtedly support him on.