Until two days ago, the James Franco-directed adaptation of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying was set to go head to head with the release of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon this weekend. Now, As I Lay Dying has been bumped, for a release date TBD. Is Hollywood trying to tell us it has found a newer, smarter, hipper Renaissance man for America to crush on — and there's only room in town for one of them?
The more we thought about it, the more we realized James and Joe are kind of similar. Serious acting chops, writing and directing gigs, lots of side projects, literary ambitions, mysterious love lives…
But has JGL truly supplanted Franco as the superior jack of all trades?
Let's see how they stack up.
Franco: Starred in a critically acclaimed TV show about a group of lovable outsiders attempting to survive in a hilarious yet hostile environment
JGL: Starred in a critically acclaimed TV show about a group of lovable outsiders attempting to survive in a hilarious yet hostile environment
First paid gig
Franco: Pizza Hut commercial
JGL: Sunny Jim peanut butter commercial
Festival where his new movie premiered
Notable early directorial effort
Franco: 2005's The Ape.
JGL: 2010's Morgan and Destiny's Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo, which involves mustaches, Channing Tatum and lots of sepia.
Latest directorial effort
Franco's film, the Faulkner-adapted As I Lay Dying, costars that yokelly guy from O Brother Where Art Thou (#typecasting) and chronicles the death and burial of the Bundren family matriarch in rural Mississippi. How does Franco convey the distinct voices of the book's 15 different narrators? Apparently there are split screens. The film garnered fairly positive reviews from those who saw it at Cannes.
JGL's film, the Jersey Shore-inspired Don Jon, costars ScarJo: He's addicted to porn, she's addicted to romantic comedies. Unrealistic models for relationships, yo!
Comfortable playing gay characters?
Cheeky, progressive response to rumors he is actually gay
Franco posted this and other Perez Hilton-esque faux-paparazzi photos on his Instagram feed last week.
Soap opera cred
Franco: General Hospital, 2009-2012
JGL: Dark Shadows, 1991
Ivy League cred
Franco: Ph.D. candidate at Yale; has an MFA from Columbia
JGL: Did a few years at Columbia but never graduated
Sherman Oaks cred
Franco: Lived there when he worked at McDonald's
JGL: Grew up there
Franco: His mother is Jewish; his maternal grandmother was an active member of the National Council of Jewish Women
JGL: His parents were among the founders of the Progressive Jewish Alliance
Franco: Writer (novels, poetry, short stories, screenplays, rambling blog and HuffPo posts…)
JGL: Writer (screenplays)
JGL: Owner of online collaborative production company
Franco: Student (Yale, Columbia, UCLA, NYU, Brooklyn College, RISD, North Carolina's Warren Wilson College)
JGL: Variety show host
Franco: Artist (performance, painting, drawing, video, sculpture, etc.)
Franco: Teacher (USC, UCLA, CalArts, NYU, Yale, Columbia)
Role in his latest directorial effort, distilled in a GIF
Neighborhood in L.A. where you're most likely to run into him
Franco: Sunset Strip
JGL: Silver Lake
Highest awards-show honor
Franco: Nominated for an Oscar for 127 Hours
JGL: Nominated for a Golden Globe for (500) Days of Summer and again for 50/50
Approach to acting
Franco: Plays himself in everything, even when he isn't trying to
Number of movies he will star in this year
Franco: At first, Franco's antics were intriguing. “He's playing himself?” we thought. “What a witty comment on our culture's obsession with celebrity! He's dashing from school to set to school because he loves to learn? So do we!”
But over the past few years Franco's prolific outpouring has had a mediocre crap–to–bona fide genius ratio of 10-to-1. Yes, Spring Breakers was hilarious, but I literally fell asleep during Oz the Great and Powerful and if his new novel Actors Anonymous is anything like his short stories, then zzzzzzz. Using his star power to publish stories in Esquire, debut music videos with Rolling Stone and organize shows for MOCA just takes away opportunities from all of those other artists out there who have talent but no name recognition, who put 10,000 hours into one specific medium instead of 1,000 hours into 10 different mediums.
JGL: Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand, is a man who values quality over quantity. Like Franco, he seems to have an insatiable desire to create. Unlike Franco, he seems to work intensely on only a few projects at a time. And instead of drawing attention to himself, JGL draws attention to his work. HitRECord, his primary non-Hollywood hobby, involves empowering OTHER people to create, share and collaborate. In other words, it's not all always about him.
If James Franco shows us the grossest side of ourselves, forcing us to admit that our culture values fame over talent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes us feel like celebrities might be just as cool as we want them to be: smart, talented, sincere and unmotivated by fame or money.
I get the feeling that Franco wants us to hate him, wants us to blame him for the things that are wrong with our society, and that Gordon-Levitt wants to be admired and respected for his stellar work. So the question of who is superior comes down to a value judgment. Which is more important: your personal narrative or your creative output?
Ultimately I would rather watch one mesmerizing movie than comb through someone's unfiltered creative detritus for a few gems.
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