The naming of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as Oscar hosts has the film world atwitter with (a) excitement (b) skepticism (c) yawning indifference? Answer: (d) A little of all of the above.
The choice is certainly a break from tradition -- with an average age of 30, Francoway are the youngest Oscar hosts in more than half a century. (To find someone equally young at the Oscar podium, you have to go back to 1956, when Jerry Lewis had just turned 30 when he co-hosted with Claudette Colbert and Joseph Mankiewicz.) It's also only the second time in a quarter-century that the Oscars haven't been hosted by a comedian.
Choosing an Oscar host is like getting dispatched to buy a single ice cream flavor for an entire kindergarten class and then having to hand out that flavor during snack time. Someone will always let you know they're unhappy.
You also have to cut producers slack for a move that will, if nothing else, dispel the idea that the academy only pays attention to older filmgoers.
But there's also a legitimate question to ask of the Francoway experiment, and it's not about comedy and the can-they-bring-the-funny issue. The conventional wisdom is that the Oscars sewed up most of the female demographic a long time ago, and the way it can goose ratings and interest is with elements that appeal to men, particularly young men. Many of the hosts of the more successful telecasts of the past few decades -- David Letterman, Billy Crystal -- have large male followings.
But Franco's fan base is, for a young male star, pretty strongly female, and Hathaway's even more so. (That's based on an informal office poll, but also a look at some of the recent movies each has done -- "Date Night," "Eat Pray Love," "Love & Other Drugs," "Bride Wars.")
So does that mean the women will tune in, as they usually do, but the men may not be similarly moved? At a time when the priority for the Oscars is broadening its constituency, Francoway may not quite do the trick. It feels a little like the tea party trying to reach out to Democrats and then sending Rand Paul to do the job.
A more specific question remains for Franco, star of this fall's "127 Hours." Some have already speculated about the potential awkwardness of an actor hosting an awards show in which he will almost certainly be a nominee but may come away empty-handed. The media coverage his hosting will generate can only help his film -- which, after a stupendous opening in big cities, has been moving along steadily but not with great momentum as it opens in the suburbs and the heartland.
Men may not tune in in record numbers to watch the Oscars this year, but if a lot more people turn out to see "127 Hours," it may just be enough. For Franco, anyway.
Photos: Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Credit: Andrew Gombert (Hathaway) and Claudio Peri (Franco) / EPA
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James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the Oscar telecast