James Franco’s Zeroville Is the Most Star-Studded Film You’ve Never Heard Of

The last major film that James Franco starred in was the 2017 biographical comedy-drama film The Disaster Artist, which he also directed to modest commercial success and widespread acclaim. The Disaster Artist received a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination and brought Franco a Best Actor Golden Globe Award for his inspired comedic performance as enigmatic filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, who has the dubious distinction of having directed and written the 2003 romantic drama film The Room, which is widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made.

The Disaster Artist represents a singular shining achievement within Franco’s feature directorial career, which presently encompasses approximately 20 films of wildly varying degrees of completeness, quality, and technical competence. Indeed, as The Disaster Artist details the making of one of the supposedly worst films ever made, Franco’s last released directorial outing, the 2019 comedy-drama film Zeroville, is rightly regarded as one of the worst films of the past decade.

Obscure, pretentious, self-indulgent, sloppy, and unfocused, Zeroville embodies Franco’s essential directorial approach, in which the film attempts to be several different films at once but ultimately fails to be much of anything.

Zeroville Was Stuck in Distribution Limbo

zeroville

Zeroville

Drama

Comedy

Documentary

Release Date

September 19, 2019

Director

James Franco

Cast

Danny McBride , Joey King , Seth Rogen , Megan Fox , James Franco , Will Ferrell

Runtime

96

In 2011, it was announced that James Franco would direct and star in Zeroville, a film adaptation of Steve Erickson’s acclaimed 2007 novel of the same name. The novel revolves around the mythic power of cinema against the backdrop of the golden age of 1970s Hollywood.

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In the film, Franco plays the novel’s Walter Mitty protagonist, Ike “Vikar” Jerome, a near-autistic architecture student who, as the film opens, arrives in Los Angeles on Aug. 9, 1969, amid the Manson family murders. Vikar, who has an image of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth tattooed on the back of his bald head, stumbles into a job on the Paramount Studios lot, where Vikar demonstrates a talent for film editing. Blending fiction with Hollywood history, Zeroville shows Vikar, who encounters the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, bearing silent witness to one of the most revolutionary decades in Hollywood history.

The supporting cast includes Will Ferrell, Megan Fox, Dave Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, and Jacki Weaver. However, despite its impressive credits and source material, Zeroville fell through the proverbial cracks in terms of acquiring theatrical distribution.

Filmed in 2014, well before the emergence of the sexual misconduct allegations that turned Franco into a Hollywood pariah, Zeroville, which carried a $6 million production cost, failed to attract even the slightest interest from major theatrical distributors, ostensibly because the film was deemed to have limited if not zero commercial appeal.

Zeroville was eventually acquired for distribution in 2015 by the distribution company Alchemy, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Following the bankruptcy announcement, the film again went without a distributor until the spring of 2019, when it was acquired by myCinema, an Internet-based distribution company.

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Released theatrically on Sept. 20, 2019, the critically savaged Zeroville grossed less than $9,000 in its opening weekend of domestic release from approximately 80 theaters. The movie ended its truncated theatrical run with a total worldwide gross of less than $70,000, most of which came from Russia.

James Franco's Reach Exceeds His Grasp

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In addition to directing and writing, James Franco has, over the past 20 years, attended graduate school, created custom portraits, fronted a rock band called Daddy, performed in dance theater, taught university film and screenwriting classes, and written numerous poems and short stories. Franco parodied his multitude of artistic interests on the daytime soap opera General Hospital, in which he portrayed the role of Franco, a multimedia artist and serial killer, intermittently between 2009 and 2012.

While the obviously talented Franco’s ambitiousness is laudable, by focusing on so many disparate projects, he diluted his core ability and talent by overextending himself. His lack of focus and propensity to overreach is visible throughout his directorial career, in which he has bravely tackled film adaptations of novels by literary giants William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and John Steinbeck, with disappointing results.

Franco’s narcissism and overambitious nature are on full display in Zerovile, in which Franco, as director and star, undermines the film’s potent source material by turning it into a misguided passion project. From the screenplay to the filming, the actor misjudged every aspect of Zeroville, including his decision to star in the movie.

In the central role of Vikar, a socially inept, unsophisticated, virginal outsider who mistakenly gains entry into the secret corridors of 1970s Hollywood, smoldering sex symbol Franco, despite his permanent scowl and shaved head, looks and seems more like the type of brooding, charismatic rebel who would have been welcomed by 1970s Hollywood with open arms and then groomed for stardom.

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Zeroville Is a Very Bad Film

In comparing the triumphant The Disaster Artist to the virtually unwatchable Zeroville, it’s evident that more than most directors, James Franco needs an especially strong screenplay to be successful and gets in serious trouble when allowed to rely on his improvisational impulses.

Indeed, while the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Disaster Artist was written by the skillful duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, whose other feature film credits include The Fault in Our Stars, 500 Days of Summer, and The Spectacular Now, Zeroville, with its half-baked scenes and various continuity errors, exhibits clear signs of having been filmed without a completed screenplay.

There’s a definite sense of irony in the fact that The Room, the inspiration for The Disaster Artist, currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 24 percent, which is one percentage point higher than the rating for Zeroville. Zeroville is streaming for free on Tubi.

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