Our final day at SXSW kicks off with Franconian pretentiousness but ends in pure disturbance.

Maladies

Director: Carter
Stars: James Franco, Catherine Keener, Fallon Goodson, David Strathairn, Alan Cumming
Running time: 96 minutes
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Score: 2/10

James Franco seems like a shrewd guy, someone who's aware of what he's doing with any given project. One can only hope that his intention for making Maladies was to star in an artsy version of Tommy Wiseau's The Room with real actors. If so, mononymous director Carter's film is a rousing success. Until that's confirmed, Maladies will exist as a vapid, not-as-smart-as-it-thinks exercise in self-stroking, made occasionally tolerable by some preposterously funny scenes, whether intentional or not.

Franco plays, yes, James, "an actor who is no longer acting," but instead working on a novel. He's prone to giving overlong, bizarrely simplistic monologues, like one about how pencils work and another that expresses his wonderment over the fact that Moby Dick actually wasn't written at one point. His friend, Catherine (Catherine Keener), draws pictures and enjoy dressing up as a man, replete with a pen-drawn mustache. Their neighbor, Delmar (David Straithairn), has an infatuation with James' stint on the soap opera General Hospital. And James' antisocial sister, Patricia (Fallon Goodson), sits around and stares confusedly.

In that regard, Patricia could be seen as the audience's on-screen double. Franco and Keener, in particular, two gifted actors who somehow manage to not embarrass themselves here, slot through numerous dialogue exchanges that open up dully and devolve into quasi-insightful gobbledygook. Carter's film—his follow-up to the experimental 2009 project Erased James Franco—so desperately wants to taken as a meaningful look at an artist's creative process, to the point where a Magnolia-like narrator dispenses obtuse wisdom (talk of "Point C" being where characters are "transformed") whenever he's not speaking directly to Franco ("Isn't that right, James?").

On more than one occasion, Franco's character serves up this elementary dose of enlightenment: "Everything needs to be made, and it needs to be made by someone." One time with Maladies should finitely disprove that theory.