MRR Review: "Maladies"

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A talented and successful actor retires at a young age due to a perceived mental illness. Now living in a small town with his deranged sister and his best friend, we watch as their Maladies intertwine. Starring James Franco, Catherine Keener, Alan Cumming & David Strathairn.
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Rating: NR
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Directed by: Carter
Genre: Drama

James Franco's film career has been a roller coaster ride for fans, ranging from the superhero film "Spiderman" to the wacky family film "Oz the Great and Powerful" to the teeth-grinding thriller "127 Hours." However, one of his most unexpected roles yet is that of the retired actor James in the artistic drama "Maladies." This character-driven film follows Franco's character and several others as they strive to express their artistic talents and unique personalities in an unforgiving world. Directed by Carter, this imaginative film is both fresh and thought-provoking. The flick explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity while delving into the lives of four quirky individuals.

James Franco plays a man named James, a retired soap opera actor who quit his career upon realizing that he has a mental illness. Now, he spends his days taking photos of New York and writing his novel. He lives in a spacious Long Island beach house with his sister Patricia, played by Fallon Goodson, and their artistic friend Catherine, played by Catherine Keener. Patricia is a disturbingly strange woman, dancing around the house and defacing Catherine's precious paintings when she is not looking. Catherine is a very tolerant and quirky painter who occasionally cross-dresses, complete with a fake mustache. Catherine allows the two troubled siblings into her home, and their lives begin to intertwine in unexpected ways.

James is both creative and unconventional. He often hears the voice-over from his opera narrating his life, sometimes even responding to it. James reveals himself to have a number of quirks, insisting that his shirt is a different color, guzzling too much water and turning on the radio just to hear static. Delmar is the ascot-wearing next-door neighbor played by David Strathairn. He has a secret obsession with James as he constantly watches his old soap opera. Delmar stops by the beach house every so often just to see James and speak with him, although it is clear that the actor does not share his feelings. The unlikely group of friends discuss a variety of topics, get themselves into hilarious situations and must ultimately deal with a bizarre, unexplained death.

Viewers looking for a coherent plot in "Maladies" will be sorely disappointed. The story darts from one event to another, often with little correlation to previous scenes. This is because "Maladies" is an artistic endeavor that explores techniques in cinematography, symbolism and various themes. However, more than anything, this is a character-based film. The extended monologues, dialogues and close-ups of the characters' habits help audiences to understand who these individuals are as artists and as people. Additionally, the film focuses on these characters' interactions with the rest of the world. This displays how their various maladies affect their everyday lives.

James Franco, a versatile actor who has proven his diverse skills again and again, brings the character of James to life in an unforgettable way. Every quirk and expression is perfectly captured. This makes audiences forget about the actor and become immersed in the character instead. Catherine Keener brings a lively, likable spirit to the quirky character Catherine, reminding viewers why this actress is a several-time Oscar nominee. David Strathairn brings some unexpected emotion to the film in his obsessive character Delmar, capturing viewers' hearts with every lonely gaze and wishful expression. Without these and other talented actors, this film would not be nearly as engaging.

Despite its unique display of human personality and beautiful cinematography, this film does fall short in a few respects. The situations in which the characters find themselves are often too strange to feel believable, and the confusing plot is off-putting to many viewers. Additionally, the story appears to take place during the 1960s. However, early in the film, the characters are discussing a news report regarding the Jonestown Massacre, which did not occur until 1978. These minor details do not detract from the overall creative and aesthetic value of the film.

Director Carter, who is known for his work on "Erased John Franco," creates a unique experience that takes viewers on a creative journey through the minds of his film's characters. It is clear that Carter's directorial style is still in the works. However, "Maladies" is a promising addition to his repertoire of cinematic work.

"Maladies" is an imaginative film that appeals to audiences who are searching for artistic meaning in the cinematic world. Featuring talented actors like James Franco, Catherine Keener, Fallon Goodson and David Strathairn, this exploration or art, personality and mental illness is a cinematic achievement that viewers do not want to miss.