James Franco continues his aggressive campaign to make everyone hate him, despite his roguish good looks, with a film adaptation of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.”
As an unfettered English major with tons of money run amok, Franco took on a challenge that has no doubt been discussed in innumerable coffee shops over the years, to film the unfilmable works of William Faulkner. Until now, the lack of money intrinsic to the study of literature has kept this plan safely in the (drunken?) hypothetical stages, but Franco has brought his star power to the murky tale, adapting the book into a screenplay and directing it himself.
The novel tells the story of a poor Mississippi family and the death of their matriarch — it’s the one where she can hear them working on her coffin as she lays dying. Then the family must transport her a great distance to bury her where she wished to be buried, a journey that is plagued by multiple catastrophes. Faulkner told his story through overlapping narratives from the viewpoints of 15 characters. It’s really confusing, and the film’s challenge would be to capture that multiple narrative concept on screen.
James Franco chose to do so by employing a split-screen device that shows both the character who is talking and the people he’s addressing at the same time. Often, neither is speaking, and their words or thoughts are voiceover. I will respectfully submit that this was ineffectual, and disrespectfully submit that it made me want to jump into the screen and bloody Franco’s handsome mug for doing this to me.
This is why people hate you, James Franco. It’s the artsy-fartsiness. BRING IT DOWN A NOTCH. Please just make “Pineapple Express: 2” instead or a “Freaks and Geeks” reunion film.
This split-screen thing was simply overused; it was almost constant. Franco’s performance was decent, however, and so were a couple of the many siblings. A monologue in which brother Cash looks straight into the camera and describes in 13 points the construction of the coffin was my favorite part of the film. Which brings me to the most annoying part of the whole affair, and that’s really saying something — Tim Blake Nelson as the father.
Being from the South, I find I am particularly sensitive to the many horrendous Southern accents inflicted upon us in film and television. The setting — impoverished, rural Mississippi — was laid on as think as molasses. Nelson, who is perhaps best known for playing a wildly exaggerated bumpkin in the Coen brother’s “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” turns in a similarly ludicrous performance here.
At its worst moments, this film disintegrates into a cliché of a bunch of dirty bumpkins standing around in the mud, intoning religious dogma through grotesquely deformed teeth. While some elements of Franco’s efforts were affecting, the overall experience was so heavy handed that it sunk too far into the mud to be salvaged.