- James Franco, Handsome Actor (right) has an unfair advantage in the author photo sweepstakes.
So James Franco—actor, filmmaker, performance artist and writer—has a story in Esquire, as Columbia MFAs with no books to their name so often do.
It’s called “Just Before the Black,” and it will probably confirm what you already think about Franco’s various forays into the highbrow, whether what you already think is that he’s a cool-hunting dilettante or that he has gratifyingly interesting tastes and you’re glad that for once a famous person is using his fame to do things that you think are cool, too, like participate in Marina Abromovic happenings and place stories in Esquire, while also appearing genuine and not untalented.
It’s about a young dude getting wasted and wishing he was someone else, or, failing that, dead; it’s written in a pretty voice-y style, a pointedly inarticulate first-person narration alternating between spare and run-on sentences, with great big “black gaping gap[s]” (to quote Franco) of inchoate yearning. In short, the kind of writing that you can get away with in an MFA workshop, but it has its moments, some descriptions that are genuinely good (a friend’s cigarette “looks like the point of a golf tee in his fat, clenched paw,” a great image, and appropriate for the character, who works at a pro shop and feels the oppressive narrowness of his frame of reference) and some that are appropriately funny-bad (headlights are “crooked and looked in different directions, like Peter Falk’s glass eye and real eye”). It’s no Denis Johnson, obviously—”like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warmy-womby-feeling but not being able to enter, just feeling the heat a little on your face”—but it’s legit enough not to count as a celebrity vanity project, is my verdict as both Film and Book Editor of The L Magazine and thus final arbiter of this story, which straddles both domains.