Do you prefer your movies simple and straightforward, or do you like them to operate as some sort of a fever dream, where one is never quite sure what is taking place, nor whether the events are real or imagined? If the latter, boy does James Franco have a trip for you. Directed and starring Franco with a screenplay by Ian Olds and Paul Felten, “Zeroville” is based on Steve Erickson’s book of the same name and it is something.
Franco is Vikar a one-time Seminary student who, after watching his first movie ever as an adult, has become consumed by film. The movie starts with him arriving in Hollywood in 1969 and runs through his experiences—or maybe dreams—of the place for the next decade or so.
Largely these experiences center around Megan Fox’s starlet, Soledad, but just how much of a relationship he has with her or her with him is a question. This reviewer, to be quite honest, doesn’t believe a single thing put on screen during the film.
This last statement is less complaint and much more fact – Vikar’s life involves him somehow being on the periphery of some of the biggest movies of the time. He attends a party where Spielberg and Lucas are talking about their ideas for “Jaws” and “Star Wars,” he ends up on the set of “Apocalypse Now,” he watches as Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal shoot “Love Story.” Huge Hollywood names flit in and out of his life and time passes with an unbelievable rapidity.
Or does it?
Vikar is an odd man and he dreams odd dreams. It is not inconceivable that the entire movie is a dream. That none of it ever happened. That he has never traveled to Hollywood or the whole thing is just something he imagines on the bus there.
One of the lessons Vikar learns early in his Hollywood career comes from editor Dotty Langer (Jacki Weaver, offering up the single best character in a film full of characters), and it is repeated throughout the movie – “f*** continuity.” “Zeroville” certainly adheres to that principal with its time and place jumps and the seeming impossibilities of some of the goings on. Are the odd moments then just Franco living out the “f*** continuity” ethos as a filmmaker or is continuity f***ed because it’s all a dream and dreams don’t regularly bother with continuity, we just accept them because we’re dreaming?
It is impossible to say. Any one answer is as good as another. Quite probably it doesn’t make a difference either way as this is Vikar’s version of the Hollywood dream… and there’s that word again, “dream.” Continuity doesn’t matter.
No, what matters in this movie is that Franco is mesmerizing. Vikar is a fascinating man and watching him wind his way through life (or dream), as various people (including Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen in bombastic performances) appear and disappear doesn’t get old. The sideways view behind the scenes of filmmaking, too, is the sort of thing any cinephile will enjoy.
The biggest issue the film has is underusing Fox. Soledad never gets beyond being an ill-defined starlet. The film hints at wanting to explore what it means to be a starlet but it never manages to get there, and certainly never allows Fox the opportunity to do it. She is much less an active participant than the subject of discussion and thought.
Out this week, “Zeroville” is a little messy, yes, but it’s intriguing. It is a movie that will assuredly be divisive, as it will either speak to a viewer or not and those whom it doesn’t get to will be particularly put out.
But, hey, that’s the movies for you.
photo credit: myCinema