By Caryn James | James on Screens February 28, 2011 at 6:51AM
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.