Did James Franco Ruin the Oscars?

Some critics are calling this year's Academy Awards the worst ever. Is the "127 Hours" star to blame?

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AP/Mark J. Terrill


Critics were divided over many things after last night's Oscar telecast: Was Kirk Douglas's filibustering comedy routine adorable or painful? Was The Social Network robbed? Was Bob Hope's digital cameo spectacular or tasteless?

But in their largely negative reviews of the ceremony, the critics were actually unanimous about several aspects: Cate Blanchett kicks ass. That kid with the goofy hair from NYU was quite the charmer. And co-host James Franco single-handedly ruined the show.

It's not hard to see why the Academy tapped the multi-hyphenate star, who was also a nominee for 127 Hours, to host the awards with Anne Hathaway. His goofy sense of humor and willingness to try anything, in theory, has a broad appeal—especially to the younger demographic. But his half-hearted attempt at the stint exposed Franco for what he really is: a jack of all trades, master of none. And certainly not of ceremonies.

"Sure, we all admire him for his energy and ambition. But he's so omnipresent and overexposed right now that a very little of Franco goes a loooong way," Deadline's Nikki Finke wrote in her self-proclaimed "Live-snarking" of the evening. Perhaps smaller doses of the star during the telecast would have been a good thing. The general consensus is that his apathetic approach to the gig not only brought the ceremony down. Worse, he hung his giving-it-all-she-had-and-then-some co-star out to dry, leading Hathaway to overcompensate, over-sell, and tank equally as miserably.

"It became clear that Anne Hathaway was over-invested in this gig and that Franco viewed it as just another oddball life experience he hadn't tried before," Daniel Fienberg wrote on HitFix. "And you could almost see him deciding that it wasn't worth his effort to give a damn and shutting down. And as he shut down, Hathaway had to try harder and harder and harder, so hard that she often came off as desperately eager to please."

Whether it was getting tripped up on lines in the midst of feigning overexcitement while introducing Sandra Bullock or shimmying her fringe in a futile attempt to wring laughs out of a dying ceremony, Hathaway's energy was so jarringly different from Franco's that she became grating in her own way. "Hathaway committed, and committed hard. She sang, she emoted, she projected. Franco, meanwhile, went blank-slate, projecting nothing except expressions verging on outright disdain," Vulture wrote. "And he left Hathaway hanging in the wind, exposed as a Rachel Berry in front of 100 million people."

Their drastically different approaches to the event proved that the producers had made a grave mistake in thinking that just because the two actors were young and beautiful, they would have chemistry. "A little like the attempt to graft Generation Y technology to old-fangled Hollywood panache, their stage personas clashed: Mr. Cooler-Than-Thou and Miss Eager-to-Please never really synched," Alessandra Stanley wrote in The New York Times. "It was a strategic attempt at demographic synergy, but it was like pairing James Dean with Debbie Reynolds."

As we saw when she performed briefly with Hugh Jackman at the Oscars two years ago, Hathaway's diverse talents should seem suited for a gig like this. The fact that she may never be asked to host again should unequivocally be Franco's fault. "She might have made a delightful foil for another partner," Rogert Ebert wrote, "But Franco had a deer-in-the-headlights manner and read his lines robotically."

While Hathaway tried valiantly to rescue the sinking ship as the night continued, Franco only became more detached, "seeming to withdraw into himself as the show went on, growing flatter and more monotone until, by the end, he might have been reluctantly emceeing a distant cousin's bat mitzvah," Dana Stevens wrote in Slate. He seemed so uninvested and distracted, that Stevens could only raise one logical question: Was he high?

So complete was Franco's desistance from the co-hosting project that there was speculation around the Web as to whether he might have been partaking of a little of the Pineapple Express backstage. (You know, that strain of weed so rare that "smoking it is like killing a unicorn.") All I know is that at some point during what must have been a long, tedious and stressful night, Franco clearly decided, "I'm never doing this again, so it doesn't matter what anyone thinks." Unfortunately instead of loosening him up, this realization, herb-assisted or no, shut him down. He was like a one-term president dedicated to governing on the platform of Who Gives A Crap.


It's Hollywood's biggest night; the host should, ostensibly, "give a crap." Just ask Anne Hathaway. You can probably find her locked in a hotel room at a Holiday Inn in West Hollywood, reeking of cigarette smoke and clutching the gold fringe of her Oscar de la Renta gown to her chest while mindlessly sobbing the lyrics to "On My Own"—which she pretty much was all night.

More awards season coverage from The Atlantic

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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