Forever encouraging an ongoing dialogue between artist and reviewer, performer and observer, James Franco has responded to Ben Brantley’s New York Times review of his Broadway debut in Of Mice And Men by inverting the critical paradigm and reviewing Brantley, deeming him a “little bitch.” Franco’s appraisal of Brantley was published on his preferred medium for making statements and hitting on fans, Instagram, in a post that was quickly deleted. But it was preserved in a screenshot by Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, formerly of Gawker, where Franco suggested Brantley might find more apt employment among other little bitches.
Some might point out that Gawker doesn’t do theater reviews, and would seemingly have little use for Brantley. Or that Franco—a Ph.D student in Yale’s English department who’s also a published author of poetry and fiction—misspelled the word “embarrassed,” in an invective calling someone else an “idiot.” But these are petty criticisms, leading one down the slippery slope to being a little bitch.
Adding the usual layer of inscrutability to any Franco endeavor, it’s not entirely clear what his issue is with Brantley’s relatively mild review, exactly. Most of Brantley’s faultfinding has to do with the oversaturation of Steinbeck’s text over the years, as well as the “generally inert” production of this latest revival. As for Franco, Brantley deems both him and co-star Chris O’Dowd “undeniably talented,” with his most cutting remarks being a description of Franco’s “Yosemite Sam accent” and the suggestion that he’s “often understated to point of near invisibility.”
Still, Brantley also concludes by saying, “Though Mr. Franco musters a single, perfect tear for the play’s tragic climax, I only came close to shedding one,” suggesting that the most recognizable emotions on stage that night came from a dog killed in the first act. And so, by way of demonstrating to Brantley that he is capable of appropriate emotional reactions, James Franco went on social media and called him a little bitch. And so the critic has become the criticized.