So James Franco has a new book out, and a new movie, and is running around doing all the James Franco things that we've come to not expect from him. But the article from Slate that I've just linked to asks an interesting question: why does everybody get annoyed with him whenever he writes a book, or directs an art film, or one of the millions of non-actorly things he seems to do all the time?
As I point out to everybody I've ever met (seriously, even to the lady who sold me a ticket to Pineapple Express), I went to school with the guy, although it's also fair to say that I didn't know him then. I exchanged words with him maybe once, when we were in middle school. So when I discuss the topic, it's not coming from the perspective of a person who knows his innermost thoughts or anything like that.
But what I do feel qualified in mentioning is that we had a lot of similar classes and teachers growing up, so he clearly got interested in a lot of different things during his education. Obviously people are going to do different things with those formative experiences - the Donnas, who also went to my high school, haven't made waves with weird avant-garde stuff, and neither have I - but it seems clear that he took something from his education and wanted to do more than just acting in romantic comedies and Planet of the Apes remakes.
As the Slate article suggests, the projects that piss people off and prompt the AV Club to tease him are the projects that could look boring and/or pretentious. But why should that be? He's not making headlines by crashing his car or beating people up or anything like that. He's not really even making headlines, but just comes up every once in a while as the subject of articles taking an undertone of "What's he doing now?".
A less extreme example would be George Clooney. There are two strands to his career, too - the devilishly charming leading man who headlines movies like Ocean's Eleven, and the politically engaged actor who made Syriana and Goodnight and Good Luck. The simple economics of moviemaking mean that you can't have Syriana without Ocean's Eleven, but I think it's legitimate that Clooney might want to make movies more pertinent to his own interests. And I guess that's what James Franco's doing, too.
This doesn't mean everything he does is to my taste. His short story collection Palo Alto was not the kind of thing I enjoy reading, but the reviews I read when it came out focused more on the fact that it was written by him, and not on the quality of the prose (a one-line review that particularly made me laugh was something dismissing it as rich Palo Alto kids drinking and screwing).
I know I'm like King Canute, trying to command the tide to stop coming in, but I think it's worth pointing out: we should be celebrating the fact that a Hollywood actor is interested in literature and art, not deriding them for it. But the news cycle goes on, and if we can't report on public meltdowns, then we turn an actor's exploration of non-mainstream art into a public meltdown too.