James Franco’s Brilliant Performance Art Deconstruction Of The Oscars

The 2011 Oscars were the scene of the boldest performance art I’ve ever seen. I mean, it was that bad on purpose, right?

It puzzled many why a young, interesting actor like Franco would take a lame job like hosting the Oscars, but tonight answered that question. For a little more than three hours the immortally talented actor took us on a journey; he began the night game and filled with possibility during the opening skit, but as the hours wore on his enthusiasm dampened and waned. Halfway through he tested the very boundaries of our concepts of humiliation by coming out on stage in Marilyn Monroe drag for a piece that was anti-comedy in the finest Andy Kaufman tradition. Finally by the end Franco was apathy personified, lazily reading his lines from the teleprompter, seemingly unclear that The King’s Speech had just won Best Picture, and even rolling his eyes in the final moments of the show. It was breathtaking, and the commitment that he showed to his performance piece was astonishing. In just over three hours Franco had taken us through the entire awards season, starting with the excitement of Telluride and Toronto, stopping at the whoring of the guild and critic awards (the Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend dress!) and ending with the sheer hateful exhaustion at the Kodak - complete with the prediction of us all eventually forgetting who even won this year.

Of course Franco couldn’t do it alone. Anne Hathaway, who had not been previously known to have an interest in avant-garde performance, played opposite the actor and sketched the arc of a person slowly becoming unhinged, throwing herself into all of the stupidest moments and unfunniest jokes of the night with daring aplomb. Her ability to project a desperate desire to keep this sinking ship of an awards show afloat with only the sheer force of her flop-sweated will was the exact perfect counterpoint to Franco’s performance as a guy just giving up and essentially tanking the jokes on purpose.

Bravo, James, for daring to use the Oscar telecast as an opportunity to examine our own fatigue with awards season. Kudos, Anne, for throwing yourself totally into the part of a performer dying on stage for three excruciating hours. Your skill, your talent and your sheer artistry at tonight’s Oscars should be a glorious high water mark for acting as a craft, as an art and as a form of communication.