Film Review: ‘F For Franco’

Known for roles in “Freaks and Geeks,” “127 Hours,” “Spider Man” and much more, James Franco is no stranger to the big screen. The public knows him well as an actor, but do they know him as an author? An artist?

“F for Franco” is a documentary that attempts to address these questions, as it delves into what its director, Francisco J. Ricardo, calls an experimental “meditation” on Franco’s artistic mind.

‘F for Franco’’ media effects (Hollywood Film Fest)

Divided into seven short segments, each portion of the film consists of interviews with Franco and narration by Ricardo — who taught Franco at Rhode Island School of Design — and many interesting effects, as depicted by the still on the left.

The documentary attempts to explain the “why” in Franco’s personal art works, from books to sculptures. Using case studies on specific pieces of art Franco has created (i.e. Rebel Exhibit), Ricardo attempts to take us through the thought process of Franco, who has many elusive mindsets and theories that he incorporates into his artwork.

Ricardo’s expertise in art theory and new media is highlighted in the film. The documentary itself is not set up according to conventional methods. It was cited as a challenge to how narratives are presented and that is extremely relevant in the structure of the film, as well as the visual effects the audience digests.

Francisco J. Ricardo, Director (Sierra Lai/Neon Tommy)

Overlay and effect heavy, the whole film is dream-like. From negative color effects to multiple fading screens, the visual stimulation in the film is high and goes throughout the 80-minute feature. While these effects serve to emphasize Ricardo’s argument about art, content and meditation, it could have a potentially distracting effect on the general public. Most of the time, I found myself asking why he used the effects the way he did and getting lost in the various colors on the screen. It takes a very critical mind to constantly analyze the different media art Ricardo uses throughout the piece in tandem with Franco’s content. However, if thought about throughly, the effects could have great impact and meaning in the context of the film.

Ricardo’s teaching background also manifests itself into the movie. With his narration and slide screens with recapping bullet points, there are parts of the documentary that are very indicative of his role as a professor. These slides were extremely helpful because of how easily lost the audience could get when viewing the dreamy sequence of Franco’s art and effects. The bullet slides keep the film grounded, despite Ricardo’s emphasis on the documentary as being a “meditation” rather than an orthodox film. The text slides supplemented my learning and viewing as they worked with the rest of the interviews and narrations.

The documentary about the art of James Franco is, in itself, a piece of art. While it is not going to suit everyone’s taste, due to its meta nature and necessity for critical thinking, “F for Franco” is a groundbreaking exploration of art, using the art form of film.

Watch a clip from the documentary here:

Reach Staff Reporter Sierra Lai here.