Netflixable? “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards” could be a swan song for James Franco

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A UCLA film school production with an omnibus cast, “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards” summoned some big-names and character actors in a sort of “Short Cuts” for the stories of Robert Boswell.

The pieces are of a biting, depressing nature — long-ago traumas, broken lives often illustrated by the moment that broke them.

Most notable in its cast — James Franco, star of its first story — “A Walk in Winter.” He’s a glum young man who has returned to the horrors of the hometown where his father murdered his mother and considered murdering him. The too-casual, understaffed PD thinks it has found her body. But first, they need him to pitch in, “cover” the phones, etc.

Franco’s understated turn is undercut by the whole UCLA origins of the project. His predatory reputation and yen for academic environments in which he played his sexual power trips on much younger women makes something like this icky on a whole different level.

In story two, “Guests,” the bullied son of a dying father (Matthew Modine)  struggles at home and at school, with his father assuming his fights are due to worry over death’s illness. “This disease,” the old man says, “is like an uninvited guest.”

But “His fight was also mine,” the adult kid narrates. Sticking up for himself is a touchstone moment of his life.

For the third story, “Almost Not Beautiful” we meet drunken, broken Amanda (Amber Tamblyn), an aspiring “monologist” who “twice tried to kill herself,” a story related by her sister (Kate Mara). The “good” sister returns to check in with the disaster she left behind.

  Kristen Wiig stars in “Miss Famous,” as a maid who services the rich and perhaps not famous. It’s an interior monologue driven piece about an aspiring writer who fantasizes that clean-freak employer Tony Cox (the elf in “Bad Santa”) is fantasizing about her. As she scrubs his toilets, she stumbles across a note that triggers a daydream of nightclubs, autographs, wedding proposals and men fighting over her.

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  Jimmy Kimmel shows up, playing “a banker type.” Natalie Portman is a “girl I left behind,” Thomas Mann is the disturbed, horny teen of a doctor who lost his license giving abortions.

And so on.

Snippets of home movies introduce each voice-over-narrated piece. With this many credited directors, it’s the occasional flash of editing and the settings (rural, mostly) that stand out. Some lines land and linger, “flair for the near-overdose,” and the like.

“That’s a good story, man,” one character tells another, after the long conversations/stories that dominate each mini-narrative. That would be true, if any of the stories had something resembling a conclusion. Or if the stories weren’t self-indulgent to the point of onanism.

And if this is one of the last films we see Franco in, another “indie” no budget thing with student filmmakers attached, we’ll recognize what caused his downfall and the Oscar he threw away over chasing age inappropriate young women.

“Insensitive Bastards” have their poster child.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: James Franco, Natalie Portman, Kristen Wiig, Mathew Modine, Rico Rodriguez, Jimmy Kimmel

Credits:Directed by Mark ColumbusLauren Hoekstra, Sarah Kruchowski, Ryan Moody, Simon Savelyev, Vanita Shastry, Shadae Lamar Smith, Jeremy David White, Jonathan King, , script based on the Robert Boswell book. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:37

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