Zeroville has all the elements of a great film in its favor, including a director with money and notoriety and an A-list cast. It was based off a book by the same name by Steve Erickson, which was named one of the best novels of 2007 by Newsweek, Washington Post BookWorld, and Los Angeles Times Book Review. But the movie, directed by and starring James Franco missed the mark. Zeroville is hard to follow and saturated with contrived scenes, that left me wondering if the film was a work of such cinematic genius that it went over my head, or if it was just simply bad.
Set in the 1970s, Zeroville follows Vikar (Franco), an ex-seminarian with the faces of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor from A Place in the Sun tattooed on the back of his bald head. After becoming obsessed with the film — the first one he has ever seen — Vikar moves to Hollywood to become a set builder. On a set, he meets Rogen's character (whom you never find out the name of and is credited as "Viking Man"). Viking Man takes Vikar to a Hollywood party, filled with important people like actors and film execs. This is where Vikar first sets eyes on Soledad Paladin (Megan Fox). She reminds Vikar of Taylor from A Place in the Sun, and soon becomes as obsessed with her as he is with the film. All of that takes up about the first half-hour, which is the only linear part of the entire film. After that is where Franco lost me.
During his time building sets, Vikar meets Dotty (Jacki Weaver), who worked as a film editor on A Place in the Sun. She teaches Vikar the lesson of "fuck continuity" and that's exactly what Franco does as a director.
Scenes skip around with seemingly no rhyme or reason. When you first meet Soledad, she is with her young daughter. Five scenes (or so, hard to keep track) later, the daughter is a punk-loving, all-black wearing teenager. And somehow, Vikar becomes a famous film editor of his own. There are flashbacks, scenes inside Vikar's mind, and present-day moments all smashed together and cut and pasted with vintage filters. Halfway through, my boyfriend and I gave up, tried again an hour later, then stopped 30 minutes before the ending. I finished on my own for this review (you're welcome), but it wouldn't have made a difference if I completed it or not. I was left confused, underwhelmed, and unfulfilled, just as I had felt when we first stopped watching.
Perhaps if I had read the book, Zeroville the film would have made more sense. But that shouldn't be the case in a cinematic take on a novel. I'm still wondering if Zeroville was a work of genius too great for my feeble mind, but as my coworker, Hannah pointed out, if I can't tell, it's probably just bad.
Zeroville is now playing at the Parkway Theater & Film Lounge until October 3.