James Franco’s first big break was in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man as Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn. It was after that that he really started to carve a corner for himself in the national psyche. And in the years after that he started to build that corner up.
He did movies like Tristan + Isolde, Annapolis and In the Valley of Elah. At the time, he really was known more for his looks than his abilities as an actor. He was a sex symbol. This all started to change in 2008.
2008 was a shifting year for Franco. He went ahead and played Saul in stoner comedy Pineapple Express, which took his sex symbol status and turned it on its head. For much of the movie he played a stoner drug dealer that wore the same dirty pajamas every day. He had scraggly long hair and really just went for it. He even earned a Golden Globe nomination for the role.
In the same year he played Scott Smith in Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Franco played Harvey Milk’s (Sean Penn) boyfriend in the film. A boyfriend that was tired of the political life. He turned in a great performance here and even earned some award recognition for it.
Suddenly Franco was getting some respect as an actor. He wasn’t just a sex symbol anymore. Part of this coincides with the fact that in 2006 he was unhappy with the direction his career was taking so he went back to school (UCLA, and then later Columbia and NYU) to learn and “get grounded,” as he put it.
In the next couple years, after Milk, Franco did smaller stuff and took a role on General Hospital. Then, in 2010, things changed again for Franco. He took the lead role in Danny Boyle’s follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours.
He pretty much nailed it. He garnered an Oscar nomination for the role and cemented himself as a talented actor. And then the Oscars came along.
If there’s one thing about Franco that’s troubling it’s that he likes to overload himself with stuff to do. He goes to school, he acts, he writes poems, he makes his own short films, he does talks, he teaches classes. He does way too much. And that showed during the Oscars in 2011, when he showed a lack of energy and drive. It was like he was in a daze.
And that perception has stuck with him. His next big role after 127 Hours was in stoner/fantasy comedy Your Highness, where it came across like he was just going through the motions, which was a far cry from his previous big comedic effort – Pineapple Express.
In the same year he made Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which he played a scientist desperately trying to find a cure for his father’s Alzheimer’s. For all intents and purposes, he was good in Rises. Compared to Your Highness or the Oscars, it was like watching Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
That brings us to this week in March, in 2013. Last weekend, Franco had Oz the Great and Powerful debut at the box office to the tune of $80 million. One week later his new film Spring Breakers debuts in Los Angeles and New York.
This is a big week for Franco. He not only had a huge hit in a new Oz movie, where he plays the friggin’ Wizard of Oz, but he put in a good performance! His character is one of those characters that you have to like and hate at the same time.
It’s the lovable douchebag and it’s a hard role to nail. If you go too much into douchey territory you lose the audience, but if you are too likable the payoff of the movie is killed. Franco managed to toe the line and put in a good performance.
And one week later he has to go all in for a character that’s essentially based off rapper Riff Raff in Spring Breakers. Early reports on his role are good, noting that he’s able to pull off an over-the-top character while maintaining a human core that’s kind of relatable.
Franco has had a turbulent career, but this week is his time to shine. This week is when he can come out and be consistent and show off his abilities and just revel in his success. Oz is already a success, whether people like it or not. He also happened to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – another success. It doesn’t matter how much money Spring Breakers does either, because he’s showed off his talents once again.
The big question for Franco now becomes: can he repeat his big week again and again?