There’s no reason why James Franco’s second directorial outing shouldn’t be known to everyone – not because it’s good or because it’s bold or because it’s even particularly interesting, but because it’s bonkers crazy that the self-styled king of literary-minded film adaptations isn’t reminded every single day that his second feature was a shockingly inept Harvey rip-off starring a guy in an ape suit in a Hawaiian shirt.
Yesterday saw the release of the trailer for Child of God, Franco’s latest adaptation of a literary work and one that adds Cormac McCarthy to his steadily-growing stable of better writers whose work Franco has adapted for the big screen – one that includes William Faulkner as its centerpiece. (Interestingly enough, Franco’s first book, “Palo Alto,” has now been adapted for the big screen by another director, Gia Coppola, and both Palo Alto and Child of God will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival next week.) Franco is also consumed with playing famous authors in ostensible biopics – from Hart Crane to Allen Ginsberg to Charles Bukowski – and his literary obsessions ensure that, even if Franco’s work in such projects isn’t actually good, it still sounds creative and intelligent and academically engaging. Then again, so much of what Franco does sounds creative and intelligent and academically engaging and still, most people make fun of him (including me!) because it all just seems like so much (seriously, where does he find the time?).
But no matter how Franco has styled his directorial career (yes, he’s still interested in playing sillier characters in others’ films) he will never be able to erase the earlier portions of his resume, including The Ape, a film that manages to cram Franco’s worst tics into a truly bizarre total package. After all, he did write the film alongside a guy who wrote thirty-five episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Precious little has been written about The Ape – Philly.com posted its trailer back in August of 2011, Nathan Rabin explored its DVD commentary over at The A.V. Club in 2006, Complex included its existence as a fun fact about Franco in a listicle back in June, and Why Does It Exist? posted about the film back in 2011 (in which, yes, they questioned why this thing even exists).
And yet, few people know about The Ape, even if it’s the weirdest part of Franco’s already deeply weird career. Released back in 2005, the film followed Franco’s directorial debut Fool’s Gold (no, not the Matthew McConaughey/Kate Hudson film, though imagine how amazing that would be), and he (shockingly!) also starred in it, in addition to directing it and writing its script with Merriwether Williams, an Emmy-winning animation writer and story editor.
Franco stars as Harry, a phone company employee struggling to balance a job he hates, a family who needs him, and desire to write the Great American Novel (classic Franco). Unable to write at home or at work, Harry leaves his family and rents “a writer’s apartment” to pen his surely brilliant works. What he neglects to realize is that the apartment comes with an “ape clause,” one that holds Harry accountable for the care and well being of “The Ape” (Brian Lally, in a cheap ape suit). Clad in a Hawaiian shirt and Converse shoes, with a major chip on his shoulder (he’s misogynistic, homophobic, and prone to shit-throwing) he’s a bit like a first-run Ted bear, only somehow even less funny. But he’s also similar to Harvey the rabbit, the classic Mary Chase character made famous by the James Stewart-starring film of the same name, because only Harry can see him. Of course, of course!, The Ape only helps Harry along the path of brutally bad decisions while not helping to alleviate his writer’s block (which he’s clearly a manifested version of).
The film apparently popped up at a couple of film festivals in 2005 – the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival – before being released on DVD in March of 2006. It doesn’t even have enough reviews on its Rotten Tomatoes page to justify a rating, though the reviews that are there are all negative (a favorite is a fan review who bemoans spending his Christmas watching it with his brother, finding it so bad that he feels compelled to write “i think my time would have been better spent at church…”).
Here, take a look at its trailer:
No, really, how come everyone doesn’t know about this film and doesn’t remind Franco of its existence every single day? How is this film not just an actual joke? Is this performance art? What is going on?
The film is currently available on DVD and you can buy it on Amazon, if you’re feeling brave.