Remember a few years ago when James Franco turned a guest-starring stint on the daytime soap General Hospital into a multimedia art project? I’m absolutely convinced he’s up to the same thing again here. Because if this isn’t a deliberate parody of furiously solemn, self-conscious artistic pretension, it’s an accidental one, and I suspect that Franco (This Is the End) — screenwriter and director here — is better than that. Working from the legendary stream-of-consciousness novel by William Faulkner, Franco earnestly deploys two arty, obfuscating cinematic ruses: an abundant use of split screens that apparently allowed him to use up every take from every angle he shot; and permitting his actors (including himself) to affect impenetrable Depression-era backcountry Mississippi accents while mumbling their dialogue. If it’s all offered ironically, perhaps it’s intended to send up overweening directorial ambition and suggest that this tale — of the poor Bundren family making a long journey by horse-drawn cart to bury their recently deceased matriarch in a town many miles away, and told via multiple internal perspectives of family members who do not communicate much with one another — is uniquely unsuited to filmic adaptation. If it’s all offered unironically… well, the upshot is the same. But I figure that by casting his Your Highness buddy Danny McBride in a small part here, Franco isn’t even trying to hide how hard he’s pulling out collective leg, and is now eagerly gathering the head-scratchings of film critics attempting to unravel his work here, which will surely soon be assembled into Phase 2 of this project, probably to be entitled As I Lay Laughing.
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