James Franco’s “Pretenders” begs the question: is this a film about bohemian artists or a parody of a film about bohemian artists? Because if we’re supposed to take this laughably trite and sexist claptrap seriously, one has to laugh. This low-rent production sports a high-profile pedigree: Franco directs and co-stars with a script penned by “The Fault in Our Stars” director Josh Boone, and the cast includes Jack Kilmer, Jane Levy, Shameik Moore, Juno Temple, Dennis Quaid and Brian Cox. But no amount of star power can save this misguided tale of sex, drugs and the French New Wave.
It’s 1979, and film student Terry (Kilmer), a budding Godard, develops an obsession with actress Catherine (Levy), who styles herself after Anna Karina, upon meeting cute at a screening of “A Woman Is a Woman.” She’s his movie manic pixie dream girl, and he gets to writing a script about her. His female classmates, present only to spout feminist theory, astutely assess from his short film that he’s obsessed with the outside of this girl but knows nothing about who she is.
Terry holds his torch for Catherine for years, even as she’s seduced away by his roommate, photographer Phil (Moore). The trio falls apart and comes together over years of breakups, makeups, broken marriages, sex addictions, AIDS and always, creative projects. Ultimately this pretentious, pompous, poorly executed project has the same shortcomings as Terry’s short: obsessed with the outside of a woman, but saddled with a myopic vision of what’s going on inside.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 4, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills