As I Lay Dying review (London Film Festival)

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As I Lay Dying red light Jim Parrack James Franco

If this isn’t a deliberate parody of furiously solemn, self-conscious artistic pretension, it’s an accidental one.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a big fan of James Franco in most of his incarnations

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

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Mon, Sep 23, 2013 9:38pm

This was one of my book club’s choices a number of years ago. I don’t normally give up on books, but I had to with AILD. The discussion at the club went something like this:
Me: I got about a third of the way through but I couldn’t finish. I had no clue what was happening.
Person Who Chose the Book: That’s because nothing happens.
Me: …

Tue, Sep 24, 2013 6:13am

I understood the book easily – Especially after Addie “spoke about herself” towards the end- that part made all the rest make sense. This is a hard book to put on film. But aside from the language of a poorly educated family which is true to the people like this back then, You have to remember that this book was verbal talk mixed in with conscious thought – like we actually do in everyday life (think about things n our minds). The book is brilliant, I do want to see the movie, But you can not expect a film like this to be like any other either.

reply to  disqus_ZN3ittOIb8
Tue, Sep 24, 2013 6:21am

The placement of Addie talking was brilliant- because before you thought all the characters were selfish asses- but it was Addie that was the villain in this family- She had an affair and lied and deceived- she admitted it, she didn’t believe in God- if you really read it- 2 of the kids weren’t Anse’s- not just Jewel (Addie herself clarifies the in her speaking part later) She didn’t love nor know how- she lived her life- just getting ready to stay dead- her words- her whole life! Not just when she was sick. She didn’t love Anse, nor children at all… so looking back- you understood why the family was the way they were, and ultimately they did do their best by fulfilling her wishes, through all the trouble- they stuck to her wishes.
and they all changed along the way.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  disqus_ZN3ittOIb8
Tue, Sep 24, 2013 9:09am

This really isn’t the place for an in-depth discussion of the book.

Tue, Sep 24, 2013 1:12pm

Perhaps an entirely appropriate film for this particular book. Much like The Great Gatsby really.