Starring James Franco, Catherine Keener, Fallon Goodson, David Strathairn
James Franco will never be the actor that people think of him as; he is this artistic unit that chases projects that stand by themselves and have lots of people scratching their heads. Of course, Franco has the big budget Oz the Great and Powerful to satisfy those unaware of these small projects he dabbles in. It’s very clear that Franco enjoys these projects that, to most, make no sense, and Maladies is no different. The only thing to keep you watching this self-indulgent, self-reflective character study are the actors themselves, who are named “James” and “Catherine”, and you realize that the entire film is commenting about their individual career choices.
“It’s hard being civil when they ask so many questions,” James (Franco) says when we first meet him. James is an actor who is no longer an actor, as he now hears voices in his head (in which he openly and audible responds to) and has decided to write a novel. His sister Patricia (Fallon Goodson) has mental disorders of her own, and both siblings have moved in with Catherine (Keener), who is a good friend and also an artist. Besides the tension between the creative artists in the house the three get along pretty well, but neither James or Patricia respond well to Catherine’s urges to dress like a man occasionally.
It’s very clear that Franco enjoys these projects that, to most, make no sense.
Maladies takes us on a journey that we don’t exactly feel like we signed up for. Featuring clips and character commentary of Franco’s General Hospital soap opera stint, the entire project seems to be built around Franco’s world inside his head. One film that kept coming to mind was Adaptation, starring Nicholas Cage (his last good performance). That Oscar nominated movie also starred Keener playing a version of herself. Keener, who was most recently nominated for her supporting performance in Capote, deserves marks for the straight face she manages interacting with Franco in what appears to be a lot of ad-lib.
Straithairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) is not playing himself and therefore gives the most interesting performance in the film, especially his creepy nature towards the celebrity of the James character. One of the funniest scenes in the film is how obsessed James is with the underused word ‘betwixt’, explaining why Canadians use it and Americans do not. There are fragments of interesting segments that almost speak to the line of work Franco has taken on, the parallel between James here wanting to use pencils or write in braille to finish his novel might be compared to Franco taking projects like this and many others to live out his career.
More of a film you have to endure than enjoy.