As I Lay Dying Reviews

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hunterjt13
Super Reviewer
½ April 20, 2014
As their mother dies, a family journeys across the county to bury her.

Dear James Franco,
Stop.
Thanks,
Jim

While adapting William Faulkner's multi-voiced and complexly written novel is no easy task, James Franco's film fails on almost every level. It seems like everybody who had an idea got their idea into the film, and the result is a mishmash shitfest. The split-screen, direct address of the camera, the shots of Tim Blake Nelson drooling all combine to prove that James Franco should never direct a film again. Let's just take the split-screens: I've almost never seen split-screens work (the one exception that immediately comes to mind is (500) Days of Summer), but the reason they don't work is they take a responsibility that should belong to the director and transfer that responsibility to the audience. Rather than choosing what to show you, Franco puts the onus on you to decide what to watch. Likewise the direct address shots and reaction shots are indicative of a filmmaker who can't tell his story visually.
On the positive side, when I read the novel, I imagined Tim Blake Nelson and Logan Marshall-Green in these roles. The casting is perfect, and while the script isn't good, these actors make it seem better than it is.
Overall, I hope James Franco goes back to just looking good in movies.
PantaOz
Super Reviewer
½ January 21, 2014
This drama based on the novel As I Lay Dying by William Fulkner seemed like a difficult task for anyone, but it seemed that James Franco didn't think so... he was the star, co-writer and a director and did an amazing job! There is no wonder that his directorial debut was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival - simply deserved it! One of the bravest brave and most interesting attempts to pull off a film with a high degree of difficulty.

The story of a grim journey which becomes a tragic ordeal of poverty and misery was unforgettable. Franco co-stars as Darl Bundren, the glowering son in a dirt-poor family in rural Mississippi. Tim Blake Nelson is the haggard, toothless father Anse, and Beth Grant plays the dying mother Addie Bundren. Jim Parrack and Logan Marshall-Green play Cash and Jewel, the other two grownup brothers; Ahna O'Reilly plays their sister Dewey and Brady Permenter is the smallest child, Vardaman. When Addie dies, the family attempts to honour her last wish for a burial in her far-off hometown of Jackson, a plan that necessitates taking the body on a long journey in a home-carpentered coffin on the back of a precarious horse-drawn cart, with the whole family glumly along for the ride.

One of the most interesting productions in the recent ways has Franco presenting the big part of the story in split screen. Long, unhurried scenes will unfold, with mumbled, throwaway dialogue (I really had a problem with the accent, almost half of the movie was difficult to understand). Franco is skilfully using two different frames, left and right: sometimes they will show two differing and significant shots, sometimes hardly more than a fractured version of the same shot. Sometimes they will be two almost exactly similar shots of the same featureless sky, with the non-matching vertical join line almost invisible. Lots of critics will take this as gimmicky and self-conscious, but it is consistently and seriously presented, and Franco's As I Lay Dying is a worthwhile movie, approached in an intelligent and creative spirit.

Acting of the whole cast was very strong, with a star turn from Nelson as the prematurely aged patriarch - transformation which is to be seen to be believed! If you are interested in all this presented lucidly and confidently - check this film!
May 1, 2014
Only see this film if you've read the novel. It was a brave undertaking to attempt to adapt it, but this was surprisingly solid as an adaptation.
½ January 23, 2014
We have to give writers and directors a chance, especially when adapting material such as the endlessly insightful and complex "As I Lay Dying", a novel which I read this year in school which entertained me highly. James Franco got his chance. The result is an attempt that gets a few things right but ultimately gives us a bland, depressing, and confusing adaptation.
"As I Lay Dying" is a great novel, one full of dark humor, social commentary, and lots of recurring motifs and themes. The interweaving stories of the dysfunctional yet loving Bundren family is told to great detail through perfectly written stream of consciousness, something which would be near impossible to successfully translate to the screen, especially for a new director like Franco.
Don't get me wrong, I think Franco is a fantastic actor; he should have been nominated for "Spring Breakers" and his "127 Hours" is legendary among a wide array of other great performances, but that talent doesn't seem to have translated to the storytelling side just yet.
The basic elements are there. Franco has a unique vision and follows it precisely; this is undeniably a film directed by Franco, and that, perhaps, is its biggest problem.
Franco uses a strange technique to convey the story, perhaps in an attempt to show the mix of thoughts: a split screen. There are practically unlimited problems with this method. The first is that it is simply annoying to watch; you either don't know what to concentrate on because there is too much going on at the same time but with a division in the middle, or you know exactly what to watch because literally nothing (and sometimes the exact same thing, I mean shot-for-shot) is going on in the other screen. Sometimes there is literally a black screen for half of it.
Franco oscillates between split-screen and single screen quite a bit, and so it's obvious he didn't know which to pick. Another problem with this method is that it splits perspective instead of allowing the whole scene to be seen as it is; this could be seen as a good thing, but it's good to see how characters react to things when you know exactly what they are up against; if it's just two faces with a division in the middle you can never tell how one sees the other because there is no sense of place.
The split-screen is also distracting and makes the film very, very boring, plus it restricts the scope the shots can have. Traditional filming, in this case, would have been a better option.
The acting is not bad in any sense, but the way the actors have been made to act is very strange indeed. The film contains many scenes in which characters recite, word-for,word, Faulkner's streams of consciousness, which doesn't translate well onto the screen. Literally every one of these streams could have been shown much more easily with anecdotal scenes, or not shown at all. Things speak for themselves.
The worst mistake "As I Lay Dying" makes, however, is that it is insurmountably boring. The novel, one of the funniest books I have ever read, is not (although technically it is) a comedy in today's blatant sense, but it is funny, ironic, and looks upon its characters in a witty way. Of course, bad things happen, but many (actually, probably all), of these tribulations are either painfully ironic, brought upon by a character's flaws, or both. The film, however, has a weird, melancholy respectfulness about it, made worse by Franco's submission to "Ben Affleck Syndrome"; not to say either is a bad director (in fact, Affleck should have been nominated and won for "Argo"), but they both really love to look at things and wander around in their movies. However, Franco's staring into the distance looks less philosophical and poetic in this and more, unfortunately, pretentious. He's got the right idea, but he's taken it a bit too far and tried to apply Darl's characteristics not just to his character, but to the whole story, which doesn't work and causes it to miss out on pretty much every theme the book has.
I will say one thing: Danny McBride was perfectly cast as Vernon Tull. He's just directed to be a completely different character.
This is no hate on Franco; he's a developing director and this is a sophomore project and I'm sure he'll grow. I'm no one to judge, I'm far more noobish than he is. That said, I'd have done everything much differently; "As I Lay Dying" does not deserve to be confined to two vertical rectangles. He just needs to develop a sense of humor; his comedy movies are always fantastic, so why does he have to make one of the greatest comedies ever written an exception?
Keep trying, Mr. Franco. You've got a long journey ahead of you.
December 29, 2014
although the film is set in poor Mississippi, that doesn't justify the lack of coherent dialogue by the actors.Concept of the story is not all bad though.
August 10, 2014
A very strange/difficult film....But, I've seen a lot worse than this one.
½ June 9, 2014
I always wondered why James Franco was never vastly recognised as a film director than an actor. If you ask me, I say he was always at his best who mostly pick biographies and dramas. This movie is one of the year's widely undernoticed and underappreciated. As always, that leads me to hate critics who divert the movie fans from this movie a watch.

This was one of the best dramas I had seen that set in the rural of the early 1900s. About the family of brothers and sister who lost their mother. As being in a remote village they struggle to travel nearby burial ground that is days away to reach. So theirs quest starts to take twists and turns among siblings and the mother nature. Each of them has individual hidden secrets that not related to their mother's death, but as a character. One after another letting us know theirs another face till the adventures ends in peace.

I really liked this movie. The tone of the setting of that era was so perfect. Feels like they all went for a century back to the original time to make the movie so accurately. It was based on the novel by the same name. Might be a fictional work, though, depicts the true lifestyle and transporting system of those times. No fights, no guns, a purely family based drama which might be a little brutal in parts, but kind of realistic according to that era. Don't miss this movie, a movie based on the old era is not frequent nowadays. Movies like this now and then really give a good opportunity to the modern people to know the forgotten culture. Hope you all realise what I am saying about the movie and its material.
February 27, 2014
One of the most unsettling movies I've ever seen. And I mean that in the best possible sense.
February 22, 2014
Gave it the old just out of film school try. Amateurish digital camera work and editing. "The acting is competent, no more. The movie doesn't have an ear for language. Dialogue, though attempting to be faithful to the book, is inexpressive and opaque. Franco overuses a totally superfluous and obsolete split screen, and that inconsistently, only in the first half of the film."
"As I Lay Dying" is lost in translation!
½ January 24, 2014
Great performances but very poor directing from James Franco. Split Screen really doesn't work on most films and this is a prime example. The production design was nice and once again the performances, but thats the only good parts of this movie
PantaOz
Super Reviewer
½ January 21, 2014
This drama based on the novel As I Lay Dying by William Fulkner seemed like a difficult task for anyone, but it seemed that James Franco didn't think so... he was the star, co-writer and a director and did an amazing job! There is no wonder that his directorial debut was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival - simply deserved it! One of the bravest brave and most interesting attempts to pull off a film with a high degree of difficulty.

The story of a grim journey which becomes a tragic ordeal of poverty and misery was unforgettable. Franco co-stars as Darl Bundren, the glowering son in a dirt-poor family in rural Mississippi. Tim Blake Nelson is the haggard, toothless father Anse, and Beth Grant plays the dying mother Addie Bundren. Jim Parrack and Logan Marshall-Green play Cash and Jewel, the other two grownup brothers; Ahna O'Reilly plays their sister Dewey and Brady Permenter is the smallest child, Vardaman. When Addie dies, the family attempts to honour her last wish for a burial in her far-off hometown of Jackson, a plan that necessitates taking the body on a long journey in a home-carpentered coffin on the back of a precarious horse-drawn cart, with the whole family glumly along for the ride.

One of the most interesting productions in the recent ways has Franco presenting the big part of the story in split screen. Long, unhurried scenes will unfold, with mumbled, throwaway dialogue (I really had a problem with the accent, almost half of the movie was difficult to understand). Franco is skilfully using two different frames, left and right: sometimes they will show two differing and significant shots, sometimes hardly more than a fractured version of the same shot. Sometimes they will be two almost exactly similar shots of the same featureless sky, with the non-matching vertical join line almost invisible. Lots of critics will take this as gimmicky and self-conscious, but it is consistently and seriously presented, and Franco's As I Lay Dying is a worthwhile movie, approached in an intelligent and creative spirit.

Acting of the whole cast was very strong, with a star turn from Nelson as the prematurely aged patriarch - transformation which is to be seen to be believed! If you are interested in all this presented lucidly and confidently - check this film!
January 14, 2014
Two line summary: Poor Mississippi family takes matriarch's body home for burial.
Adapted from William Faulkner's novel of the same name published in 1930.

------------------------------------

Addie Bundren lay dying in rural Mississippi circa 1930. Darl and Jewel go on an errand, and promise to be back before sundown. Their cart gets stuck in a rut in the pouring rain, and they do not keep that promise. Cash keeps working on Addie's coffin within sight of Addie's sick bed. Cash continues to work on it after she is gone, in the rain, no less.

Cash finishes the coffin, Darl and Jewel get the cart unstuck. Addie has made Anse promise that she will be buried in the town of Jefferson. This proves to be more than a bit complicated.

There is a lot of talking and angst and back-biting as Darl, Jewel, Cash, Dewey Dell, Vardaman and Anse head to Jefferson to fulfill the promise. They encounter a number of challenges, such as weakened bridges across streams, dodgy fords, broken carts, lost animals, lost tools, lost coffin. Aside from that, Cash gets a compound fracture, which the local vet sets. To get a new team, Anse trades away just about everything the family had, including Jewel's beloved horse.

The corpse continues to rot, and the smell increases. Whenever they are near or in a town, they are not welcome. Cash's leg does not get better, and they set it with cement. Jewel gives up his horse.

The journey does not get any easier. Will the family accomplish its mission?

--------Scores--------

Cinematography: 9/10 Mostly excellent, but has a bit of camera shake to it.

Sound: 9/10 Again, mostly excellent. However, I would have been lost without the subtitles on Netflix. The century-old Southern accents were thick to say the least.

Acting: 8/10 Fine, by and large.

Screenplay: 8/10 Difficult story, well told.
January 7, 2014
Unless you have studied, enjoyed, or read William Faulkner, you should skip this film and this review.
Otherwise, I encourage you to see one of the most creative dramatizations of an important novel by one of our finest writers. James Franco really understood how to bridge the difficulties of capturing a story and stream of consciousness writing... mostly through the clever use of split screen.
The acting ensemble is amazing. The cinematography is startling.
I heartilly recommend this film to you. Bravo to all.
January 1, 2014
I don't quite understand all the negative reviews. I found it true to spirit of the novel: it's a hard, tense, slog with bursts of insight and activity.
December 27, 2013
Borderline mediocre, but good to see Franco and McBride in roles like these.
December 14, 2013
If you didn't read the novel, don't ever judge about it before the end. It begins brutal, disgusting, emotionless .. anything. I guess it's one strictly faithful movie to its source. I have to respect the way of this adaption. James Franco choice was hard, brave and ambitious.

The long walk to bury their mother in the place she wanted, will expose a lot of stories hidden in that family, with love, jealousy, needing, and even hatred. It's simple, poor, guilty, drippy... yes, these are the properties needed to the characters. A contemplative slow-developing script in a lot of scenes. Well-use for the charming location to get a decent visual work. Although the split screen was so upsetting for me, I cannot stop admiring the editing, that strange idea to make you feel bad, really works! The southern accent is harsh and a bit complex. I think the music is sharp and over somehow, and I admit that I feel it mannered and that makes the audience lose their sympathies with the story.

I am glad I watched it, maybe it's not great, but students of filmmaking should watch it as faithful adaption, because This kind of movies cannot be commercial.
½ December 14, 2013
Like the tittle, the audiences will feel half dying watching this film. James Franco as actor are more suitable than become a director. It is too ambitious to lift this dark topic on the big screen. More profitable if this movie directly played on tv channels. Because nearly none would love to see this at theaters. If they do, it won't until it finished.
½ November 17, 2013
Phenomenal movie- no better way to adapt this emotionally tortured tale than this. James Franco has made a historical mark in his adaptation of one of William Faulkner's
best. The cast was superb,Tim Blake Nelson in true form played Anse with disgusting perfection. Logan Marshall Green stole my heart as quite Jewel. The scenes with Cash in anguish will leave a permanent imprint and the young Vardaman ( played by Brady Permenter- a local Mississippi actor) made the movie for me unforgettable.
November 14, 2013
I just finished this movie?and?I have to watch it again??my first comment?astounding!!!!
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