(See video of Franco reading "Howl" below.)
The movie is in turns inspiring, frustrating, and compelling. But finally, it doesn’t come together. Adding animation inspired by Eric Drooker’s illustrations accompanying Ginsberg’s poems to James Franco’s reading of "Howl," for example, is awkward at best. Franco, who was introduced to the filmmakers by Gus Van Sant, makes a warm and soulful Ginsberg. He watched footage of the poet as an older man, listened to countless readings and interviews, and watched the short Pull My Daisy for a glimpse of the younger Ginsberg’s gestures and movements. I found inspiring both Franco’s readings of the poem and a long interview (based on transcripts) about Ginsberg’s evolution as a writer in search of an honest voice.
A more straightforward dramatic biopic of the young Ginsberg might have worked better, with more material on the two writers who broke his heart, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, as well his life lover Peter Orlovsky.