James Franco's "As I Lay Dying"

I don’t know when it happened exactly – maybe it was his non-performance hosting the Oscars – but the worm has definitely turned on the general enthusiasm for James Franco. For a while, everything he touched was a source of endless media fascination, but that’s pretty much over. No one I talked to here at Cannes going in was particularly excited about seeing his adaptation of William Faulkner’s challenging novel As I Lay Dying and those who were assigned to it weren’t looking forward to it. The thing is, it’s not Franco’s fault that every artistic doodle he’s tossed off and each creative whim he’s followed has been treated with such reverence. And his name still has cachet. Would As I Lay Dying have ever been chosen for the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes or would it ever have even been made without Franco’s name front and center? No, it wouldn’t because unfortunately it’s not very good.

You have to tip your hat to Franco’s ambition in trying to adapt a novel told in stream of consciousness from the perspective of 15 different characters, but ambition and good intentions don’t necessarily add up to a compelling film. On the bright side, Franco gets some interesting performances out of everyone in his cast except himself. Especially good is Tim Blake Nelson as Bundren family patriarch Anse who has a memorably disgusting mouthful of little brown tooth nubs, but he also sabotages them at every turn with an overly arty split screen presentation. Apparently meant to give what otherwise has the sparseness of live theater (but without the immediacy of an actual play) the vitality of the cinematic, the split screen only serves to distract audiences from the performances and distance them from already challenging material.

Movies and novels are obviously two entirely different things, but one always hopes an adaptation will capture a little something of its source while enhancing it in some unexpected way. Franco’s As I Lay Dying is certainly respectful of Faulkner but maybe a little overly so. It never makes the case for itself as a piece of art on its own, nor does it add anything to the original or make it feel fresh and new again. It’s a vanity/passion project from a guy whose every whim has made news lately. Maybe it’s past time for him or us to take a little break.

10 Responses to “Cannes 2013: James Franco’s “As I Lay Dying””

  1. “I don’t know when it happened exactly – maybe it was his non-performance hosting the Oscars – but the worm has definitely turned on the general enthusiasm for James Franco.”

    Yep, I agree, and must say I have never been a fan of his. Looks like it”s all by the numbers here, and even if you love Faulkner as most of us do, there is nothing to distinguish it. Cheer up Craig, the great ones are ahead.

  2. Franco gets an A for effort. It just wasn’t ultimately very interesting. I’d rather just re-read the novel.

  3. This novel is fantastic. It’s one of those books that I really don’t need to see adapted to a movie because it’s so amazing in and of itself. I’m not particularly a fan of Faulkner – sometimes he’s just a little too much for me. But the stuff that worked for me I love.

    That said, it could have been interesting to see a movie that was both respectful to the novel and also brought a new dimension that could only be achieved in cinema. It’s too bad.

    Off topic, Craig, but did you get to see Behind the Candelabra the other day? If so, I’m looking forward to your feedback on that. I like both Soderbergh and Damon, and liked their previous work together, and from the stills/teasers I’ve seen it looks like the casting is spot on.

  4. I did Alison. I loved it. Douglas and Damon were terrific. Funny, sweet and a little bit sad. Makes an excellent case in favor of gay marriage without coming right out and saying it.

    I guess I should write a review of it, yeah?

    As for Faulkner, if you love the book perhaps you’ll see a new angle in the film that I missed and appreciate it more.

  5. Craig, I would love to read your review of it if you’re inclined to write one. :)

    I know there is a lot to do and see and write about, though, so no pressure.

    I’ll probably wait until As I Lay Dying comes to DVD if I’m going to check it out, but we’ll see. A friend of mine is really into literature and tends to be interested in seeing adaptations of classics, so I may end up going with her when it plays in NYC.

  6. Alas, never got around to writing it Alison, but I’m assuming by now you’ve seen it yourself. If so, I wonder what you thought.

  7. Craig, I don’t have HBO, which is where I think it was playing. :(

    Hopefully it will come to Netflix soon.

  8. HBO is kind of a dick when it comes to releasing their shit to Netflix. I recommend you find a friend who has cable :)

  9. Have you seen Franco’s Hart Crane film, Craig? Ugh, though the fellatio Franco performs doesn’t look faked.

  10. Mark, no I missed that one.

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