Film Capsule: The Broken Tower

Wait. What’s that you say? James Franco wrote, directed and starred in a full-length feature film for his NYU thesis project, and it’s premiering this weekend at the IFC Center?

Why, yes, of course James Franco wrote, directed and starred in a full-length feature film for his NYU thesis project, and it’s premiering this coming weekend at the IFC Center downtown.

I mean, how could it not be, really?

This is James Franco, after all – the budding young provocateur who wants so ardently for people to recognize him as a renaissance man that he’s willing to turn his entire career into one long, rambling performance art project. This is a guy who figures if he tethers himself to enough beatnik poets and esteemed liberal arts programs, the public will inevitably have to consider him brilliant by association. This is a guy who – perhaps to his credit – refuses to rest on the laurels of an Oscar-caliber acting career, instead taking significant detours into long-form fiction, poetry, music, and teaching along the way.

And the unfortunate thing about it is, with the exception of being an absolutely superb actor, just about everything else James Franco tries his hand at is mediocre at best. As a fan, you kind of want to cheer the guy on … give him his due for bucking the system and trying his hand at several worthwhile pursuits that may not come so easily.

As a critic, you’re in the unfortunate position of leveling with your readers – a sentiment that is particularly relevant in the case of The Broken Tower, a two-hour film about a little-known American poet who travels the world on his father’s dime, while doing very little else in between. 

If someone were asked to sum this film up in 25 words or less, here’s what he or she would write:

I’m drunk and I’m gay and I’m writing.

I’m drunk and I’m gay and I’m reading.

I’m drunk and I’m gay and I’m dead.

Fin.

Is The Broken Tower a well-made film? Why, yes, The Broken Tower is a well-made film. From an academic perspective, it’s clear James Franco has studied his Godard and Cassavetes. In fact, if I was a film professor, I’m quite certain I’d give the lad an A-triple-plus for the effort.

But the problem is I’m not a film professor. I’m just a simple fan of movies. And the same way I would not recommend that an audience spend its weekend grading papers, I cannot recommend people spend their time or money going to see a film that labors on for what feels like forever, only to wind up in the very same place that it began.

I mean, sure, there is a noteworthy scene where Franco goes down a prosthesis, and then there’s yet another scene during which Michael Shannon shows up for the express sole purpose of fucking James Franco in the ass (No shit. I swear. This really happens).

But otherwise, you get the very real impression what you’re doing is watching some pretentious white kid’s final thesis project, which is, of course, exactly what you are doing.

And that … well … that just tends to suck the life right on out of it.

(The Broken Tower premieres this Friday at the IFC Center in New York City. It is also currently available via Video On Demand.)