Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Jesse Eisenberg And Kristen Stewart Go On In The Run In Red Band Trailer For 'American Ultra' Watch: Jesse Eisenberg And Kristen Stewart Go On In The Run In Red Band Trailer For 'American Ultra' The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival 5 Innovative Ways The Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard 'Macbeth' Differs From Previous Versions 5 Innovative Ways The Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard 'Macbeth' Differs From Previous Versions New ‘Ant-Man’ Photos; Movie May Include More Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters New ‘Ant-Man’ Photos; Movie May Include More Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters Over 30 New 'Jurassic World' Photos, Plus 2 New Clips & Lots Of New TV Spots Over 30 New 'Jurassic World' Photos, Plus 2 New Clips & Lots Of New TV Spots Matt Damon Goes Interstellar Again In New Pics From Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Matt Damon Goes Interstellar Again In New Pics From Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Cannes Awards Winners: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d’Or; Rooney Mara Ties For Best Actress With ‘Carol’ Cannes Awards Winners: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d’Or; Rooney Mara Ties For Best Actress With ‘Carol’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever More NSFW Posters For Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' Plus The Official Director's Statement More NSFW Posters For Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' Plus The Official Director's Statement Cannes: Watch A Three Way Makeout In The First Clip From Gaspar Noe’s 3D ‘Love’ Plus New NSFW Image Cannes: Watch A Three Way Makeout In The First Clip From Gaspar Noe’s 3D ‘Love’ Plus New NSFW Image New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season 10 Movies Booed At Cannes 10 Movies Booed At Cannes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: James Franco's Ambitious Adaptation Of William Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying'

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist October 8, 2013 at 7:09PM

To be certain, James Franco has never been lacking in ambition. From the meta quasi-doc "Francophrenia (Or Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)" to the Hart Crane biopic "The Broken Tower" to the kinky "Interior. Leather Bar." to the primate co-starring "The Ape," Franco has leapt into filmmaking, taking on challenges and narrative most other filmmakers wouldn't dare to attempt. And while there is something to admire in the ambition of the 35 year-old actor/writer/director's latest venture, "As I Lay Dying," it never amounts to much more than a curiosity.
0
As I Lay Dying, James Franco

To be certain, James Franco has never been lacking in ambition. From the meta quasi-doc "Francophrenia (Or Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)" to the Hart Crane biopic "The Broken Tower" to the kinky "Interior. Leather Bar." to the primate co-starring "The Ape," Franco has leapt into filmmaking, taking on challenges and narrative most other filmmakers wouldn't dare to attempt. And while there is something to admire in the ambition of the 35 year-old actor/writer/director's latest venture, "As I Lay Dying," it never amounts to much more than a curiosity.

Requiring a decent knowledge of the source material (or at least a quick skim of the Wikipedia page) to fully grasp (and full disclosure, I haven't read the book), Franco's film almost plays out as William Faulkner's "Oregon Trail." The basic premise is pretty straightforward: following the death of matriarch Addie, the Bundren family head to Jefferson, Mississippi to lay her to rest. Along the way, we'll see various family secrets and more come to the surface. But the journey isn't easy: an unwanted pregnancy, a broken leg, a raging river and more will provide obstacles to the Bundrens, who will deal with the past so they can move on to their uncertain future.

As I Lay Dying James Franco

To be fair to Franco, the source material—featuring 15 different characters narrating 59 chapters—isn't the easiest to make cinematic, so kudos to him for employing split screen for a good portion of the running time to add some visual pizzazz to his tale. Utilizing different camera angles, and allowing viewers to see reactions from different family members to the same event or to show two different sequences simultaneously, Franco employs the technique without it ever feeling like a gimmick. This certainly helps in evoking a literary feel to the film, though it's just too bad the actual narrative is never as compelling as its visual counterpoint.

For all of the respect Franco clearly has for the source material, "As I Lay Dying" simply doesn't have much of an actual story to tell. The Bundrens are clearly a troubled brood, but what further insight there is to be gleaned from the film remains obtuse. Their quest is the main thrust of any momentum the movie has, and yet it often feels like the picture is spinning its cart wheels. Not much really "happens" in the movie until the third act, and if we're supposed to get any deeper meaning from the various voice-overs, which serve up plenty of Faulkner's poetic wordplay, that went completely over our head.

As I Lay Dying

While the cast tackles the Southern setting with relish, they are often delivering the same single notes. Tim Blake Nelson chews on a Southern accent (with literally no teeth and rotting gums) that is often incomprehensible as Anse, the head of the clan; Jim Parrack mostly moans as Cash, while Logan Marshall-Green is quietly stoic as the bastard Jewel. Perhaps the lone standout is Ahna O'Reilly as the fresh-faced Dewey Dell, who is on a rather heartbreaking mission to get an abortion. With Franco putting himself in the role of Darl, the "main" character, his accent comes and goes, and his third act histrionics due to a twist (sort of) are absurdly over the top, for what is an otherwise moodily measured picture.

Ultimately, "As I Lay Dying" is another Franco lark that is more of an experiment with form than a fully realized movie. One almost gets the sense that Franco is working out ideas with "As I Lay Dying," with the goal of creating a cohesive film as a secondary ambition to simply capturing the feel of Faulkner's prose. Perhaps there is something noble in that endeavor, and we're always intrigued to see what happens when talent with access to do whatever they want try their hand at the unconventional. If anything, the film confirms that Franco does have the skills to create cinematic art, but he'll have to get out of his own way first to do it. [C]

This is a slightly edited reprint of our review from the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

This article is related to: James Franco, James Franco, Reviews, Review, Tim Blake Nelson, Logan Marshall-Green, Ahna O'Reilly


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates