With tongues planted firmly in cheek, Ian Olds and James Franco poke fun — or do they? — at experimental film, soaps and Franco’s wild-card rep in “Francophrenia (or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is).” Designed as a pseudo-docu edited from hours of footage shot at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, when Franco guest-starred on “General Hospital,” the pic feels like a playful parody of celebrity, yet the press materials attribute a greater seriousness to the project than can be seen onscreen. Will this land at streaming sites for fans or art galleries? It’s a toss-up.
The mix of the two seems to be the helmers’ objective, though surely the title alone clues auds in to their ironic stance. On “General Hospital,” Franco played a murderous artist named Franco, whose exhibition opening at the museum was to be the culmination of a revenge plot. The gimmick in “Francophrenia” is that Franco becomes lost in his character, trapped in what film theorists would call the “performance of performance”; during the shoot, he’s no longer certain who he is or what he’s supposed to do other than act a role.
Repetitive inner monologues (voiced by Olds) have him questioning his sanity, uncertain whether he’s experiencing amnesia or conflating himself with his sudsy counterpart. Given the storm of publicity relating to the thesp’s occasionally erratic behavior, this extratextuality much of the pic’s spirit: An amusing debate between restroom pictograms has one caustically remarking, “The leading light of his generation and here he is strung out on ‘General Hospital!'”
Aside from the schizophrenia, reinforced by repetitive editing that furthers the general sense of neurosis, the co-helmers seem to also be poking fun at soaps and the concept of fame. Early on, the actor is seen gladhanding his fans (looking rather ridiculous), and scenes of the episode being shot highlight why Franco’s screen charisma has earned him a place in the starry firmament while his daytime TV colleagues remain on a lower plane.
Occasionally, Olds inserts black-and-white sequences resembling negative images reinforced with drawn-on lines. Together with quick zooms, stop-motion and sudden slow-downs, “Francophrenia” feels like the product of a high schooler going a bit crazy with Final Cut Pro. Sound is problematic, though it’s hardly necessary to hear every word.
Pic’s subtitle refers to a line “Franco” shouts before falling from the roof. What baby? Is it found? Only devoted “General Hospital” viewers can say for sure, but they’re definitely not the target audience.