Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Road to Nowhere: James Franco's Hubris and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

Movie Review: As I Lay Dying

Director: James Franco

Reviewed: 11 March 2014

jamesintexas rating-- **

Well. James Franco's hubris as a director results in the messy As I Lay Dying, a beloved classic of American Literature, reduced to a series of cinematic gimmicks and sloppy speech-making. At the heart of William Faulkner's Depression-era saga of the woebegone Bundren family's odyssey to bury their mother in Jefferson, Mississippi is the polyglot voices of a family and a community, intersecting and overlapping, not quite fitting together. To depict this, Franco relies all too heavily on a split-screen technique to represent shifts in time and character, but I think these choices undermine the heart of the novel itself. While an easy way to depict multiple consciousnesses or perspectives, Faulkner never intended his readers to read two chapters simultaneously, which is essentially what Franco does by splitting the screen and combining moments from the novel in this most unnatural way.

His eye for casting seems somewhat right with Tim Blake Nelson as the nefarious teeth-seeking paterfamilias Anse and a precocious Brady Permenter as young Vardaman. However, the film's biblical journey across Mississippi seems rarely matched with powerful imagery or cinematography. The film's score lacks any sort of connective tissue between scenes, and the overall effect is one of horror, but Franco's lack of restraint in final pivotal scenes shows far too much, lessening the dramatic power of the family's destruction.

It is not untoward to desire a director up to the challenge of filming the unfilmable, to wrestle with the complexities of Faulkner's prose and stylistic choices. I have always wanted to see what Terence Malick would do with Faulkner or perhaps Quentin Tarantino. Both men have the confidence and inventiveness required of Faulkner. Franco's hunger for a challenge, while admirable, exceeds his skill as a director or screenwriter. I don't begrudge him for it, but it is difficult not to consider what a more capable cast and director would add to this heartbreaking work of modern literature from the closest America has ever come to Shakespeare. Franco just got stuck in the mud of Yoknapatawpha County.

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