As I Lay Dying (USA; 110 min.)

directed by:
James Franco
starring: James Franco; Tim Blake Nelson; Jim Parrack; Ahna O'Reilly; Logan Marshall-Green; Beth Grant
As I Lay Dying

Michael says: "Of all of William Faulkner's catalog, I have only read The Sound and the Fury, but that is enough to tell me that James Franco successfully captures the tone and feel of Faulkner in his co-written adaptation of Faulkner's classic, As I Lay Dying. I suspect being a fairly high-profile actor, directing, co-writing and starring in such a classic, one that has been called 'unfilmable,' Franco set himself up for some speculation and scrutiny on this project. I certainly was somewhat skeptical as I loaded the DVD into my machine (yes, I still watch DVDs). But as the story unfolded, complete with multiple points-of-view, stream of consciousness narration, grisly medical practices, sometime nearly impenetrable accents, and layered family mysteries and drama, it was clear that Franco had the chops to pull of something really quite remarkable: a narrative adaptation that pared down the novel to its essence while retaining the author's signature voice. To that I say Bravo!

"Franco gets some help in this endeavor. His cast is very strong. AS I LAY DYING follows the Bundren patriarch and his five children, as they take a harrowing mule-led wagon journey to bring the recently deceased matriarch of the family back to her hometown for burial. Tim Blake Nelson plays toothless Daddy, Anse with an unlikely combination of indecipherable incompetence and a control that borders on emotionally abusive. Eldest son Cash is ably handled by Jm Parrack, all handsome stoicism, even in the face of barbaric physical challenges. Logan Marshall-Green musters all the hot-headed impulsiveness he needs as Jewell, who seems to love his horse more than his dead mother, and Ahna O-Reilly conveys sole daughter Dewey Dell's wary plotting with a combination of calculated callousness and innocent foolishness. Brady Permenter as Vardaman, the youngest of the Bundren clan captures that loss of innocence effortlessly. Then there is Beth Grant, as Addie, the titular "i", who death drives the plot. Beth is riveting whenever she is on screen, whether it is her yearning yet resigned stare into the camera, or her post-passing monologue about her life and family where her rage and her bliss are evident in her voice - so expressive and nuanced. Finally Franco himself takes on perhaps them most complex of the Bundren children with Darl. Perhaps it is his movie-star aura, but he fares least successfully of the cast. He does a fine job, but every once in a while he feels like he is another movie, one that is more contemporary, and less rooted in all the elements that Franco the director has carefully assembled for this film.

"A shout-out to Franco's cinematographer Christina Voros is needed as well. The film is beautifully shot, capturing the backwoods feel of southwestern Mississippi, and the grim determination of a family each with their own agenda so perfectly. And again, I must applause Franco's direction. He makes some bold choices, and they work surprisingly well. He certainly understood what he wanted to convey with this film, and he succeeded. 4 1/2 cats"

Thom says: "I'm so thrilled with your review Michael. I'm a huge fan of this film as well, in fact I gave it 5 cats, but you'll have to remember I'm not that objective about Franco, & usually love anything he does. I have read As I Lay Dying (Nobel Prize winner Faulkner has always been one of my most-favoured writers & As I Lay Dying is a book I've long adored, but I certainly never thought it was ripe for film-making as its stream-of-consciousness style makes a script nearly impossible. That Franco so consistently throws himself head-first into nearly all his projects and that he often chooses work that is far-off-the-beaten-path speaks volumes about his commitment to his craft. In a year that contains both the bravura, life-altering performance in SPRING-BREAKERS, to the huge mass success OZ THE GREAT & POWERFUL & THIS IS THE END, & with other projects to boot: LOVELACE, INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR, HOMEFRONT, THE ICEMAN, PALO ALTO, THIRD PERSON, CHILD OF GOD, & a dozen films in various states of fruition, his renaissance quality is amazing. He's the new Orson Welles. But AS I LAY DYING really does stand out with great performances throughout, from Tim Blake Nelson & Beth Grant, of course, two long-time pros as Anse & Addie, to television marvels Jim Parrack as Cash (so great as Hoyt Fortenberry in the classic TRUE BLOOD) & Danny McBride as Vernon Tull (really hilarious as Kenny Powers in the delightful EASTBOUND & DOWN), to news-to-me Ahna O'Reilly as Dewey Dell & Brady Parmenter as Vardaman. If I was forced to quibble with the film, I rather agree with Michael over Franco's performance, brilliant at times, but off a-step-or-two as Darl, certainly the most difficult part as anyone who sees the film will ascertain for themselves."

Chris says:  "You can’t fault this James Franco-directed William Faulkner adaptation for lack of ambition; to even film such a challenging novel (with contains 15 different narrators) requires considerable moxie. While the finished project isn’t always graspable, it’s far from an embarrassment. The first thing you notice is Franco’s decision to shoot a majority of it in split-screen—always a risky choice as its flashiness can threaten to obscure any substance, but here it’s an ideal way to show multiple perspectives at once. It also helps that the cinematography always looks interesting, gracefully swaying between lucid landscape shots and more abstract compositions. The ensemble is uniformly strong and includes Beth Grant (in a rare entirely dramatic role) as the dying matriarch, Tim Blake Nelson as the (literally) toothless voice of sanity and Jim Parrack as the son who physically suffers the most to honor his mother’s last wishes, among others. At times, the story seems incredibly oblique and the tone verging-on-pretentious, but Franco also relays the material with purity and sincerity; if he wants to establish himself as a director who acts (and not just an actor who directs), this is a promising start. 3.5 cats"

Diane says:  "Just watched James Franco's version of Faulkner's novel. I missed the temporal structure of the novel, but understand Franco's decision to hang the multiple perspectives on a smooth narrative.

"Was very amused to see an interview pre-filming in which Franco said he was hoping for Michael Shannon, Paul Dano, Richard Jenkins, and Joaquim Phoenix. He ended up wih a very different, less obvious and fantastic cast. Particularly good are Tim Blake Nelson as the self-centered patriarch and Ahna O'Reilly as the sole daughter. I would have liked Beth Grant's character to have the last word, as I think she does in the book. 4 cats"