People often times ridicule his so-called artistic side, but James Franco for the most part is a fairly interesting voice. For an A-list actor to produce and star in several small indies is quite commendable, as he is very much a supporter of young directors who have not gotten their chance to shine. However, his track record with indies has mostly been somewhat mixed.
He has tried his hand as a director with films like Interior. Leather Bar. and Child of God showing some promise, yet being largely failed attempts. Franco is however seemingly better suited as a producer of his own stories with 2014’s Palo Alto being a great adaption of his novel while featuring a great directorial effort by Gia Coppola. He is back again as a producer with his latest Yosemite.
Based on two of Franco’s short stories, Yosemite is an intertwining narrative of three fifth grade boys growing up during the 1980s. With a mountain lion spotted in suburban Palo Alto, the boys try to find some sort of answer as to what is going on.
While many may find its slow pace and lack of action a bit frustrating, Yosemite is a thoughtful and well-executed coming of age indie that continues to show that indie films aren’t under the strict limitations of yesteryear.
A skill Franco has as a writer is capturing the mind-set of youth, showing how children try to understand worldly concepts that are ultimately out of their grasp. Gabrielle Demeestere adapts Franco’s stories, capturing Franco’s sensibilities quite well. The three narratives have equal amounts of screen time and intertwine throughout with ease. The dialogue here is fairly realistic, along with the situations the film depicts.
Demeestere is also a force in the director’s chair with her previous work being including the overly ambitious student collaboration The Color of Time. Here with a more contained narrative, Demeestere delivers a great effort, especially considering the budgetary constraints. Yosemite has a great look to it with the use of long-shots capturing the scale of the film’s beautiful vistas.
Her work is perhaps most present with the actors; everyone in Yosemite delivers subtle, yet effective performances. To be honest, this may be the best audiences have seen from Franco, creating a well-rounded character in his limited screen time as a father staying on the path of sobriety. The film lives or dies based on its child actors who are shockingly good here. Everett Meckler, Alec Mansky and Calum John are naturals, carrying the film on their small shoulders.
Yosemite has some problematic aspects. There is an obvious fear looming with a mountain lion on the loose, but the film often times plays with the audience’s expectations too much. There are one too many fake out moments that after a while they just becoming annoying to endure. The film also seemingly did not have the three boys together on-screen enough, meaning the audience misses out on their interesting and untapped dynamic.
Modest in approach but effective in execution, Yosemite is a solid indie that rewards audiences’ patience with a thoughtful look into youthful mind-sets. Ultimately, many may remember this film as a breakout effort for Demeestere with the young director displaying a poise and skill-level beyond her years.