I was curious, it streams instantly on Netflix, and it was only 60 minutes, so I figured, what the hell.
There’s one interesting scene that seems to be the thesis of James Franco‘s little experiment: He talks with his lead actor Val Lauren about the sexual norms imposed by society, and in a rare moment of passion explains that he doesn’t want to be beholden to the attitudes that have been drilled into him by the outside world, and that this film is his act of revolt. Why is gay S&M sex any less socially acceptable than all the other objectionable content already in movies?
The rest of the movie, however, is a lot more coy than that, and actually kinda timid. Franco claims to be making a point about normalizing a taboo set of behaviors, but he doesn’t just go ahead and make that movie. Instead, he keeps a safe distance from the material, making a film about the making of the film he’s making, with the actors discussing the themes, wringing their hands over the prospect of having gay sex on film. It all feels pretty staged; in one scene, he makes a point of showing his co-director Travis Matthews coaching the actors in what is supposed to be a candid behind-the-scenes conversation. In a later scene, the lead actor sits in the parking lot reading a script in which the Lauren sits in the parking lot reading a script.
So you’ve got the film-within-a-film angle, plus the meta self-references. Are you far enough away from the icky gay sex yet, Mr. Franco?
I don’t think Franco is homophobic. I think he wants to be a transgressive artist, a provocateur, but instead of making a provocative film, he’s made a film about himself wanting to make a provocative film. It’s not about gay sex. It’s about him watching gay sex, which is masturbatory in a different kind of way. He doesn’t get off on the content. He gets off on his own audacity in filming the content, pleasuring himself by patting himself on the back.
Franco is an interesting, talented guy, a good actor and a good director, but sometimes it seems like he’s almost disappointed that he’s a good-looking, straight, white man. In the western world he pretty much hit the privilege jackpot, which limits his avenues of transgression, so while he wants to be provocative artist — a gay sex movie here, a necrophilia movie there — he comes off more like a tourist.