The dime-store advice to all writers is "write what you know." However, in James Franco's case, writing what you know always seems to add to his aura of dastardliness. Lindsay Lohan, who has already suffered several low points as of late (chief among them starring in a “docu-series” on the OWN channel), is Franco’s subject matter in "Bungalow 89," which serves merely to kick her while she's down. Had the short story actually been decent or even truly “fictional,” it might be worth enduring Franco's assessment of the former child star. Instead, it reads like a slightly more literate version of Regina George's burn book.
Alternating between first and third person at random, Franco establishes that he wants us to know he's trying, really trying to be experimental. When you work so diligently to wear so many hats — actor, producer, director, student, teacher, musician, Academy Awards host, full-time James Francoist — adding the title of author to the list seems as if it should be easy. Alas, not everyone can be a writer merely because they have the inclination to write. Then again, if they already have the fame, well, that's another story, as Franco has proven time and time again. The actor, who has yet to risk dabbling in novel-length prose (unless you count his memoir, A California Childhood), is also responsible for the short story collections, Actors Anonymous and Palo Alto. (But why bother reading it when you can see the movie?)
What you take away from these works is that Franco needs to be reminded of one thing: The world already has their Bret Easton Ellis. Franco's attempt at emulating the same level of grit and nihilism fails to come across every single time. An example from “Bungalow 89”:
I ran my fingers through her hair and thought about this girl sleeping on my chest, our fictional Hollywood girl, Lindsay. What will she do? I hope she gets better. You see, she is famous. She was famous because she was a talented child actress, and now she’s famous because she gets into trouble. She is damaged.
It’s as though we’re reading a crude draft of Less Than Zero.
Like Ellis, Franco is also fond of name-checking — the difference in the way Franco does it, however, is that it’s far less parsimonious. In the span of a single paragraph, he mentions Gus Van Sant, Lukas Haas, John Belushi, Martin Scorsese, Kurt Cobain, Harrison Ford and Leonardo DiCaprio. While it's possible that this is a way of legitimizing his credibility as an author (“I know all these important people, therefore you have to take me seriously”), it might just be a way to fill a word count quota.
Speaking of name-checking, the frequent references to J. D. Salinger in “Bungalow 89” prove vexing, especially when Franco likens his own character to a superior version of the notoriously reclusive author:
Salinger would be a companion to young women, real young women, for years, and then, one fateful night, he would sleep with them and the friendship would end. After that, after he fucked them, they were no longer the innocent ones running through the rye to be caught before they went over the cliff. They had gone over, and he had been the one to push them.
So we’re to surmise that Franco took the moral high ground by not sleeping with Lohan — who isn’t even “innocent” enough to corrupt in the first place? Incidentally, one of Ellis’s literary inspirations for Less Than Zero was J. D. Salinger. And so the parallels continue.
Lohan (albeit an imaginary form of her) has proven her writing techniques to be slightly more advanced — and far more delightfully snarky — than Franco's. In Sarah Miller's hilarious response as Lohan, she not only insults Franco by noting that she at first thought he was a guy who worked at Coffee Bean, but also mocks his sentimental attachment to the Chateau Marmont as a symbol. She states, "Some people like to go on and on about what it represents to them and all the stuff they did there, but I’m just going to stick with calling it a hotel, because on Long Island we like to keep it simple."
Although we may never know what the real Lohan’s assessment of “Bungalow 89” is, there must be at least some truth in Miller’s statement, “He looked so serious, like he had just finished reading 1,000 books and had to read 1,000 more or he was never going to get to watch TV again.” Maybe less time spent reading the authors he wishes to embody would give Franco some semblance of his own voice. (Then again, he’s probably just reading American Psycho over and over again while more than occasionally glancing at a mirror.) In the end, this may be the most glaring issue with “Bungalow 89”: It’s a melange of literary styles Franco thinks will give him the authorial validity he craves, though it winds up achieving just the opposite.
Genna Rivieccio graduated with a degree in screenwriting and closely identifies with Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. She has written for pop culture blogs, including Culled Culture, The Toast and Behind the Hype, as well as satire for Missing a Dick and The Burning Bush.
(Image Credit: Salon)
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