Zeroville, directed by James Franco from the novel by Steve Erickson, is yet another love-letter to Hollywood from the actor-filmmaker. However, unlike the more effective The Disaster Artist, Franco’s newest gets too caught up in the nostalgia of yesteryear to be much more than passive entertainment.
The film follows a young actor who arrives in Hollywood in the late 1960’s, making his way through the industry at the same time as some of the most iconic movies in history are being made. As a sprawling love-letter to the City of Stars, the film is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and feels just as indulgent despite the shorter runtime.
One of the biggest issues with this movie is that it seems too obsessed with the films to which it is paying homage. The protagonist has an obsession with Montgomery Clift and the movie A Place in the Sun. However, when this recurring motif finally clicks into place at the end of the film, it feels forced, silly, and self-indulgent. The point of the movie is made clear in the opening moments, and the ending just feels over-the-top and ridiculous.
Another issue with the film is that the timeline is rather jumbled. The movie references several famous films, including Apocalypse Now, although it more often than not does not place them in the correct position relative to other references in the movie. Although the film clearly exists in an alternative history (akin to Tarantino’s movies), it loses a level of authenticity because of these goofs.
That said, despite the film’s issues, it manages to be a compelling character study. Vikar, who is, of course, played by Franco, is a very interesting character, and his arc is surprisingly heartfelt. His quest, not only to achieve his dreams and make an impact on the world, but also to be loved, is one that so many people feel and will relate to. This rags-to-riches tale may be one that we have seen before, but it is so tried-and-true because it still works.
Apart from Franco’s eccentric and entertaining performance in the lead role, the ensemble is filled with plenty of recognizable names. Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell both give funny turns in supporting roles, complementing Franco well. Perhaps most shocking, though, is Megan Fox, whose turn as an aspiring Hollywood starlet that keeps getting cast in grunt roles is surprisingly earnest (perhaps because it rings true to her own experiences).
On a technical level, Franco does a good job of transporting the audience back visually to Hollywood in the 60’s and 70’s. Franco’s passion for this era of film history is obvious, and this is what gives the movie a majority of its charm. Though the script’s inconsistencies may draw some audience members out of the world, the style of the film is there to bring them right back.
Zeroville is a flawed and pretentious movie, but it is also ambitious. Even though there are better nostalgia trips, the compelling character arc and solid visuals of this film make it entirely watchable.
Zeroville opens in theaters on September 20.