Sunday, February 10, 2013

To Be Perfectly Franco

James Franco's latest film, called "Maladies," is a moody, introspective, and ultimately self-indulgent hodgepodge of a film that further solidifies Franco's reputation as a dilettante. It seems like a student film and doesn't contain anything that resonates.

James Franco's character is an artist. The film begs you to applaud this fact every time you see him on the screen. Look at him, scribbling away while listening to static on the radio. Look at him having a nervous breakdown in a drugstore. He's the real deal, folks!

James Franco's sister, Patricia, played by Fallon Goodson, is a silent, bug-eyed observer of Franco. She sits in her 50's-style poofy dress in the corner and smokes cigarettes even though she knows it annoys everyone (although everyone else is so lost in their own thoughts that they barely register the actions of those around them) because she has no creative talent. In an early scene, Patricia drinks a glass of water as if she's been wandering the desert for 40 years, gulping it down so quickly that it spills all over her dress. There's an actual subplot about glasses of water and how everyone in the cast drinks water. Because, well, because James Franco just wrote an essay about water and it means a lot to him right now!

Catherine Keener plays Franco's friend, and she is a painter. She paints Rorschach inkblots and dresses like a man sometimes, because she's also an artist. Catherine just wants everyone to get along, and she wants James to stop having panic attacks and obsessing about death and making life hard for himself.

James wanders around 2012 Brooklyn, which is supposed to look like 1950's Brooklyn because two people on the street are wearing period piece clothing. Franco walks along the beach by his house and listens to an omniscient narrator explain to him how wonderful it is that he has the ability to use his arms. He picks up the phone in a telephone booth and hears voices in the dial tone. He tells Catherine things like "Everything in the world was made by someone," and "Everything that is, wasn't at some point" and "I know where I am at point A, and I know where I am at point B, but I don't understand how I got to point C." Catherine hugs him and smiles because -- wow! -- what a hottie intellectual.

Alan Cumming plays James's gay admirer. He lives next door and (meta alert!) watches James play himself on a soap opera all day long. All Alan Cummings wants to do is rub himself against Franco's penis. But Franco don't swing that way, and he's sick of being called an "actor" by Cummings because he's a "writer" now, got it? This is very important to Franco, like the thing with the water.

The film plods along, barely able to capture a single emotion, lost in its own unique brand of creative suffering, until Franco goes insane, sprays shaving cream all over himself, gets tackled by a bunch of cops, ends up in jail and then, abruptly (though not surprisingly) dies. It's now up to Catherine to translate his entire manuscript into braille because Franco met a blind woman once and thought she was holy.

Welcome to the back of Franco's mind. It is just as boring as you thought it would be.

Friday, February 1, 2013

How (Not) to Date a Berliner

Before I moved to Berlin permanently, I spent a winter here in 2008. The weather was the same as in Seattle (rainy, hazy, full of bleak) but everything else around me was different. I was dating one of those mythical born-in-Berliners. His name was David, and he thought I was crazy.

David wore Capris and smelled like magic. He lived in a white modernist cube of an apartment in a crumbling building above a major intersection in Mitte, near his Yogi friend "Greg." On weekends, he'd leave the apartment around midnight and come back at four or five am, at which point he would make bok choy with soy sauce and sleep until 2 in the afternoon. He was 35. I was 21 and terrified of life. We were an odd match.

David and I would Skype and I would tell him a joke and he would laugh and then look at me like I was an alien. We didn't understand each other on most levels. For one, he didn't even WANT to talk about his job, even though it sounded totally cool (he was an editor and I was at a very impressionable age). He also wasn't paranoid about sex, unlike all of my hyper-educated gay friends in the States. He used condoms, end of story, why was I freaking out? 

David taught me how to be a hedonist. Together, we'd go to abandoned warehouses filled with paper mache and dancing. We'd go to strobe-lit caves of wonder. I tried dancing like a German (there's less irony involved) and I definitely tried drinking like a German (ie, in public). I felt awe at this adult amusement park of art and leisure. On the drive back to his apartment, I'd stare out the rain-streaked window at all the grafitied and crumbling buildings, wondering what crazy, naked art projects were going on inside.

One night, David and I got into a fight. We were at a bar, talking to an old flame of his, and I began to feel like a used, snot-encrusted hankie. I suddenly believed he had slept with the entire city. "I've lived here a long time!" he responded. "So, of course I've known a lot of people." The necessary expiration date on this age-imbalanced relationship came into sharp focus. I didn't care that he used condoms, I felt like I was going to get a disease anyway. The next day, I wrote him an email apologizing for essentially calling him a slut, but it was clear we weren't cut out for each other at that stage in my life. I left Berlin soon after.

Back in Seattle, the gay bars were the same. But I began to let go, just a little bit. I was more open to meeting new people. I was actually just more open, period. You don't realize it until you go back to the States, but it's much more fun to look at the world through the eyes of a Berliner, even if you barely understand where they're coming from. You don't have to open your legs, though -- the eyes will do.