A turgid experiment in elliptical lyricism, William Vincent plays like a hybrid of Pickpocket, In the City of Sylvia, and The Passenger, except far more pretentious than even that description suggests. Jay Anania’s film follows a man who goes by the name of William Vincent (James Franco) as he strolls Manhattan’s sidewalks, his starting point murky—having cheated death by skipping a doomed flight home from Japan, he assumed a new identity and residence in Chinatown—and his destination unknown. Splintered into fragments, and told largely in retrospect as a mysterious woman named Ann (Julianne Nicholson) reads a letter written by William, Anania’s story slowly reveals a basic plot involving amateur thief William’s recruitment by a crime boss (Josh Lucas) and his subsequent, frowned-upon relationship with Ann, employed by said kingpin as both a lover and a whore. Such a conventional narrative recap, however, implies a lucidity and momentum that doesn’t exist. Every scene is an exercise in drawn-out affectation, with the characters’ silent stares at each other, gazes off into nothing, and pauses between dialogue exchanges—all set to meaningful piano twinkles and drum beats—so distended as to intimate parody, an impression exacerbated by William twice telling enforcer Vincent (Martin Donovan) that his comments sound like something from a movie.
Alas, if Anania intends to make a point about the cinema via his egregiously mannered style, it’s ineffectively conveyed. Aside from a startling moment in which Nicholson, in one of many close-ups, silently expresses piercing surprise and wonder, William Vincent proves obsessed with striking only inauthentic poses drenched in murky DV shadows, its every camera shot and underlined musical note announcing its capital-F Filmmaking, and every character gesture and intense look screaming capital-A Acting. William’s job as an editor of nature videos provides Anania with countless opportunities to deliver symbolic footage of hummingbirds (seen hovering or flying toward each other, like William and Ann) and jellyfish (they have no nervous system, like the largely emotionless William).
Yet such devices merely augment the sense that Anania has images he wants to commit to celluloid but no actual story to tell or theme to explore. Far from a Jean-Pierre Melville-style soulful, ruminative reinvention of a classical genre tale, the film utilizes its familiar premise for little more than wannabe-profound aesthetic masturbation, leaving its cast to vainly attempt to energize scenarios without purpose, and sticking the game Franco—often required to chat with the memories of youthful friends in starkly colorful flashbacks—with the impossible task of animating a cipher protagonist who’s aptly described as having “never meant anything.”
William Vincent will play on April 25, 27, 29, 30, and May 1 as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. For more information click here.