William Faulkner published this novel in 1930; he described it as a “tour de force”, critics consistently rank it among the top 20 novels of the 20th Century, readers describe it as “difficult” and movie producers have largely considered it unadaptable, in part because of its stream of consciousness style, and the fact that it uses 15 different narrators.
Have no fear – there is one courageous writer\director in Hollywood known for attempts feats others consider impossible, and that man is none other than James Franco.
James Franco co-wrote the script with fellow Yale graduate student Matt Rager. His first act as director was to cast himself in one of the lead roles, and then attempt to synthesize the many narrators with voice over and split screen techniques. Was I a fan of either? No I was not.
It’s an interesting story though. Addie is the mother who lays dying – well, for the first 5 minutes or so. And then she’s dead, while staring out the window at her eldest hand-crafting her coffin. She’s got 4 sons (coffin making Cash, played by True Blood’s Jim Parrack, James Franco as Darl, and Logan Marshall-Greene as favourite Jewel), a daughter, and a no-good son of a gun husband, Anse (Tim Blake Nelson). Her last wish was to be buried in her hometown so they load her unembalmed body into the old wagon and set off against all reason, and for mostly selfish reasons, it turns out. The trip does not go well. Even Danny McBride pops up to try to talk sense into them, and the minute McBride becomes the voice of reason in your movie, you know
shit’s about to go down.
Franco’s techniques are repetitive and amateurish, but damn if he isn’t ambitious.I don’t always understand Franco’s career choices, nor do I believe there’s necessarily a lot of forethought put into some of them, but I do admire his desire to try his hand at as much as possible. It just didn’t translate here. I was confused a lot of the time (despite the fact that I’ve read the book numerous times) and had to pause and rewind a couple of times just to be sure I had things straight (thanks, Netflix!). Maybe this one should have remained unadapted (and maybe Nelson’s teeth could have remained unrotted, while I’m wishing out loud). It’s messy and a bit cold and feels more like an art installation that accessible story-telling (an academic experiment? his thesis, maybe?). Yes, Faulkner’s words are weighty, but they’re also deeply affecting, and I think Franco’s biggest fail is that he hasn’t engaged me into a story that I know is all about the feels.