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Review: Franco Tweets While Oscars Burn

by Caryn James
February 28, 2011 6:51 AM
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Idea for a sci-fi movie: the villain sneaks a drug into the air at the Oscars so that almost everybody seems a little bit stoned . . . or, wait, did that really happen?

Sluggish, badly-written, a near-disaster from start to finish, the Oscar show was the best evidence yet that even if the Academy thinks it want to be younger and hipper, it has no idea how to do that.

Pairing James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts seemed inspired. He’s the off-beat arty guy. She’s the good girl; she can do all the nude scenes she wants, but she’s still the cheerleader who gushed in pre-show interviews about how lucky she was. Instead of balancing each other, these two were a total mismatch.

Hathaway was perky enough for a dozen ingenues. She was game, she sang, she acted as if the material was worth delivering when it wasn’t. And thank goodness.

Everyone else seemed completely out of it. Presenter Jake Gyllenhaal seemed to be moving in slow-motion. Christian Bale, accepting Best Supporting Actor, seemed to blank on his own wife’s name while thanking her. And no seemed more detached than Franco, heavy-lidded and borderline surly. He’d slouched through an interview on ABC’s Red Carpet special, looking tired and cranky, as if he were annoyed at having to be there minutes before the show began. He never changed that attitude.

He might have been in a bad mood because of the horrible material he was about to jump into. That charming Grease homage with Franco and Hathaway that leaked out a few days ago? Hathaway admitted on the E! pre-show it was “a red herring,” not in the show. It was a thousand times better than anything that made it in.

How half-baked was the show? About mid-way through, Hathaway appeared in a tux, mentioned a certain Australian singing partner who had bailed on her, and sang “On My Own” rewritten with Hugh Jackman references. (“His fake retractable claws . . .”) Jackman played along from his seat, heading toward the obvious and only payoff, that he would join her on stage. But no. He sat there. Instead . . .

Franco came on dressed like Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, complete with strapless pink dress, blonde wig, birth mark. OK, maybe this thing will pick up, at least it’s looking weird. Then Franco said, “I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen.” Really?! A Charlie Sheen joke?! That was the end of the routine, the most obvious punch line of the evening, the one joke so predictable nobody should have gone near it.

You can see why Franco looked so uncomfortable; he and this tired material didn’t belong in the same room. Still, if you’ve taken the gig you really should go all out the way Hathaway did and not phone it in - or tweet it in as Franco did, tweeting out photos and videos from backstage.

This photo, with Franco and longtime Oscar writer Bruce Villanch, says everything about the disconnect between the material and host.

And there was a moment when the whole old/new dilemma became absolutely clear. Billy Crystal, one of old Hollywood’s favorite Oscar hosts, turned up and the crowd stood and cheered as if they were begging him to come back. But that would have been just as disastrous, because he went on to deliver jokes that were creaky shtick leading into a tribute to Bob Hope. How backward-looking can you get?

The night was full of groaners that were not Franco and Hathaway’s fault. It was badly paced and badly directed. Now and then you accidentally caught sight of camera people in the background scurrying away; come on, it’s the Oscars, don’t muddle the simplest camera shots .

Presenters Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem appeared in white dinner jackets and white bow ties; the costumes were meant to pay homage to the early days of Oscars (a theme that never registered) but the men looked like 1930’s waiters.

And leading into the Best Picture announcement, the entire climactic radio address from The King’s Speech was played as a voiceover while we saw a redundant montage of Best Picture nominees. Could the producers have been any more ham-fistedly confident that movie would win?

Who would have thought that Melissa Leo’s loony Supporting Actress acceptance near the start – she not only dropped an F bomb, she grabbed frail old Kirk Douglas’s cane as they walked off stage – would be the high-energy point of the evening? As the night dragged on, Franco’s backstage tweets began to feel like messages from a hostage. Maybe he was a prisoner of the material, but not as much as the audience.

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  • LD | March 2, 2011 6:29 AMReply

    James and Anne were un-funny and the whole show was UNDERWHELMING. Very very disappointed. I love the Oscars. It's telecast live here in India at 5 a.m. and I wake up every year at that unearthly hour to watch the show. When Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted the show last year, you could remember so many funny things they did and said. This year was just embarrassing. Anne seemed like she had downed about a dozen Red Bulls and was laughing and whoo-hooing constantly and annoyingly and James was just... spaced out. He just seemed not there. Very sad!

  • jt | March 2, 2011 5:33 AMReply

    I cannot knock or blame Anne Hathaway whatsoever . Bless her heart ! This poor girl maintained her charisma, grace, enthusiasm , and energy throughout that slugfest. Anne was a energizer bunny. She did everything she could to save that titanic of a show. Anne had so much heavy burden on her shoulders : comatose co-host, hideous writing, horrible production, predictable winners, and some of the most unmemorable speeches in Oscar history.

    Hathaway is a charming triple threat performer , and the producers didn't allow her to utilize her skills fully , beyond ridiculous ( especially when Hugh Jackman & Justin Timberlake is in the audience) . No host could have saved that travesty.

    Trust, if the show was well-written and incredibly produced , I could see Anne Hathaway hosting with Hugh Jackman, or Anne & Robert Downey Jr., or even Anne & Justin Timberlake. That would have been a smashing success .

    P.S. To be so young, Anne has a great stage presence. Remarkably, she was unbelievably comfortable on the Oscar stage for three hours. Most people older than her would have been a bundle of nerves under those same extreme circumstances she had to deal with. I have a newfound respect for Hathaway.

  • Nola Contendre | March 2, 2011 3:46 AMReply

    I totally agree, and I sure don't blame Hugh for keeping his seat. Nothing puts me in the mood for celebratory song and dance more than being called a Huge Jackass on live television. The hip and young should sue for defamation.

  • derby | February 28, 2011 4:01 AMReply

    why does vilanch still get the gig each year? are they afraid to ask him to sit one out? who is in charge over there?

    i usually expect very little from the oscars and its cast of self-absorbed celebs, butt his was below the line of even acceptable bad sunday night television.

  • Mortimer | February 28, 2011 2:20 AMReply

    I cut off my arm for that?

  • John | February 28, 2011 1:35 AMReply

    Could't have said it better. The whole evening was a flatline with an occasional blip above or below it. The squandered 'Hugh Jackman' setup was unforgivable....felt like being tripped in sight of a finish line. Excellent article, sorry you had cause to write it.

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