As I Lay Dying

by Louise Adams
Tuesday Nov 5, 2013
As I Lay Dying

Ubiquitous jack-of-all-media James Franco brings his directorial and performance skills to his co-adaptation (with Matt Rager) of William Faulkner's 1930 novel "As I Lay Dying."

The Bundren family takes the body of matriarch Addie (a hypnotic Beth Grant) forty miles from their country farm to her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. Led by Addie's dogged and toothless husband Anse (Tim Blake Nelson), the children bring their own issues and degrees of mourning along for the ride. Carpenter Cash (Jim Parrack) has hand-built Addie's coffin, starting it outside her deathbed window while she was alive, careful to point out that it was "built with a bevel," and slight, single sister Dewey Dell (Ahna O'Reilly) has a secret that keeps her from fully registering her mom's passing.

Franco plays Darl, Logan Marshall-Green is Jewel, a son from Addie's affair with local minister Whitfield, and the excellent Brady Permenter as young Vardaman, who associates his mom with a catfish he caught and gutted right before the death, saying, "My mother is a fish."

"My mother is a fish."

On their arduous mule-cart journey, the motley crew is beset with natural and manmade disasters, including rain, collapsed bridges, broken bones (the queasy should watch with caution), fires, rapes and arrests.

Franco's production is slow and quiet, and he wrangles the difficult novel into primarily split-screen takes that sometimes illuminate (with literally another point-of-view) and sometimes annoy; and the characters utilize direct-to-audience narration, "like the confessional addresses used in reality TV," says Franco in the one behind-the-scenes DVD feature.

But the weak Oscar host delivers a solid meditation on life, and seems to share Faulkner's feeling that "the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time."

"As I Lay Dying"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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