James Franco currently has 183 titles listed on his IMDB page. That’s an average of nine films per year since circa 2000. One certainly can’t fault the guy for lack of effort. What’s more questionable are some (let’s face it, a lot) of the choices that he’s made: audacious attempts, wherein he took stabs at adapting works by Cormac McCarthy (Child of God), William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury), and John Steinbeck (In Dubious Battle). The results were underwhelming… to say the least. More experienced directors would balk at the task at adapting those great novels. Franco seems unfazed by the workload, nor the critical backlash.
“…follows a young film student/aspiring director Terry, as he pursues the woman of his dreams…”
Pretenders, Franco’s latest directorial feature, is not based on a Great Novel. Its level of pretension, however, may even exceed his past endeavors. The filmmaker’s evident, earnest desire to live up to his beloved literary inspirations went a long way to dilute the smugness. Here, the frequent allusions to the French New Wave movement (Godard and Truffaut get name-dropped, among many other auteurs) become borderline-insufferable. Pretenders pretends to be Bertolucci’s The Dreamers in its meshing of a saucy young love triangle with an impassioned ode to cinema of yore. Alas, Mr. Franco’s not quite there yet.
Boldly spanning (almost) a decade, the film follows a young film student/aspiring director Terry (Jack Kilmer). He pursues the woman of his dreams – the mysterious and elusive Catherine (Jane Levy), whom he met at the movies. The introverted, humble Terry has a formidable rival – his polar-opposite friend Phil (Shameik Moore), a womanizing photographer who serves Catherine with some brutal honesty: “He ain’t gonna fuck you like you like to be fucked.” According to Phil, Terry views Catherine as a “cinematic ideal,” while Phil sees her for what she is…“flesh and blood.” As years go by, the two vie for her attention, with Catherine leaning towards Phil’s slickness vs. Terry’s heartfelt sincerity.