Nice move, Academy. There is so much to love about the prospect of watching Anne Hathaway and James Franco, two of Hollywood’s most interesting and daring young performers, breathe some fresh air into the stuffy Oscar broadcast, which has become a dusty relic, full of cornball humor, uninspired shtick, boring montages, and mash-up musical numbers that often play like a dare not to change the channel.
Now all that’s about to change. How could it not? First, let’s take stock of this duo’s combined lineup of current future book-based projects. We officially declare Francoway to be the most literary Oscar hosts ever. Beyond Franco’s one-man-show performance in “127 Hours,” Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Franco’s got a shelf full of books in various stages of movie development. And Hathaway, who earned her lit cred early on with roles in such book-based hits as “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Brokeback Mountain,” is currently starring in “Love and Other Drugs,” based on Jamie Reidy’s Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. She also just finished playing the lead in the highly anticipated adaption of David Nicholls’ One Day, about a man and a woman who go their separate ways after a brief, blissful encounter and spend two decades haunted by what could have been. Directed by Lone Scherfig, the filmmaker best known for last year’s “An Education,” which Nick Hornby adapted for the screen from Lynn Barber’s memoir, it’s hard to think of a more exciting talent mash-up than this one.
If that’s not reason enough to tune in, there’s also the built-in suspense of Franco, a likely Best Actor nominee, pulling double-duty as host and contender. Adding to the show’s watchability: Neither Hathaway nor Franco has any background in stand-up comedy. That means more skits, and less awkward banter and zing! moments. I still wince at the memory of two mountainous talents like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin engaging in interstitial patter so dull and dated, Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson would not have been caught dead reading those lines on national television.
Still, Franco and Hathaway aren’t exactly subversives, and the show will likely still retain all of its entertainment comfort-food familiarity. Hathaway, you may remember, shimmied and sashayed across the Kodak stage as Hugh Jackman’s dance partner during his stint as host two years ago. And Franco, who moonlights as an academic, was thisclose to being last year’s commencement speaker at UCLA’s graduation, until he pulled out at the last minute. On top of that, the actor-novelist-director-painter-academic clearly has some comic chops. And given his status as an unofficial member of funnyordie’s comedy troupe, we fully expect Franco to sharpen the show’s comic edges.
But can Franco sing and dance? Can Hathaway tell a joke? It doesn’t really matter. We’re just thrilled to finally have the element of surprise restored to the Oscar show itself.
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