A few months ago I saw Police, Adjective, a film bad enough to tempt me into yelling at the screen, giving up film criticism altogether, and committing suicide; I didn’t want to live in a world where long stretches of film could be occupied by men sipping soup or reading from a dictionary. A friend thankfully talked me down, and I’ve been fine since—until today. Today I saw Jay Anania’s William Vincent, a crime drama starring James Franco as the titular William Vincent, a nice young boy who accidentally gets sucked into New York’s high-profile drug scene. Don’t get excited just yet—though the premise sounds promising, the actual film is a plodding pretentious mess, filled with drollish dialog, innocuous, faceless villains, and many unnecessary Youtube videos explaining and exposing the daily quirks of hummingbirds. Vincent effectively sucks away everything enjoyable about mafia films—action, moral ambiguity, grandiose situations, and interesting characters—instead leaving us with some doofus clepto who enjoys watching nature videos in his storefront apartment in Chinatown. Other stuff happens, but you aren’t likely to make it past the first five minute montage of jellyfish to find out. Luckily I did; like an honest-to-god prisoner of war, I stayed with this piece of shit to the very end, hoping for something to latch onto—some nugget of truth or humor; something mildly entertaining to justify this film’s existence. But all I walked away with was the knowledge that hummingbirds radiate light.
Vincent opens with an over-the-shoulder shot of William walking down the sidewalk; this exact shot, along with numerous scenes of the protagonist eating in restaurants while eavesdropping on his neighbors, comprise the majority of this film. Sure, there’s a subplot about William’s minor cleptomanic tendencies, the drug ring he falls prey to due to the actions of Mobster Kingpin #1 (whose character name is actually listed as “Boss” on IMDB), and the drug ring’s trick whom he buys a kimono and refuses to fuck, but the real focus of this film is James Franco’s insatiable appetite and penchant for walking. Midway through the film, Vincent (or “Right-Hand Mobster Croney”) offers James a ride in the ring’s Cadillac Escalade, but rather than take the ride, James says, rather poignantly, “No thanks. Riding ain’t my style” before walking away. James Franco—you sure can walk and eat!
I hate this film. I regret not walking out during the introductory five-minute- segment about hummingbirds, or the second one about jellyfish history, or any of the several times these videos were repeated. Everything about it—the pacing, the way most of the story is delivered through clunky, laconic narration, or how every element—flat line delivery, the splicing of narrative scenes with nature videos, and utter inanity of this “crime drama”’s arc—form the most pretentious piece of cinema I’ve viewed in years. For those looking for the storyline, here you go: William is strongarmed into joining a mobster’s team of cronies and begins forming a legitimate relationship with Ann (Julianne Nicholson), the ring’s whore, threatening “Boss”’s relationship with her. After William murders one of her clients, he flees the country for four years only to return and have his head bashed in by Vincent. That’s the most generous, imaginative synopsis you’re going to get—truthfully, characters just meander around the sets while James Franco narrates overtop of them, saying things of little to no relevance whatsoever. Sometime around the film’s beginning, Ann (or another unknown female narrator) states “William never meant any harm, nor did he mean any kindness. He didn’t mean anything”. That perfectly sums up this film—it means nothing. Don’t waste your money on it. If you see a William Vincent poster hanging somewhere, tear it down. Steal prints and burn them. You’ll be doing humanity a favor.