Trailer Premiere: James Franco Takes on William Faulkner in ‘As I Lay Dying’

Bryan Enk
Movie Talk

James Franco continues to mystify the world as Hollywood's so-unpredictable-it's-getting-predictable multitasker as he dabbles in several film-, art- and education-related projects simultaneously, leaving one wondering when the man has time to sleep (and whether this is all some sort of elaborate put-on). When he's not making bondage documentaries, annoying his neighbors, pursuing a PhD at Yale or teaching screenwriting at UCLA, he's tackling William Faulkner adaptations -- specifically, the author's beyond-ambitious and highly celebrated masterwork, "As I Lay Dying."

See the trailer here:

"As I Lay Dying" incorporates a stream-of-consciousness style and multiple narrators as it tells the tale of mysterious Southern matriarch Addie Bundren and her family's quest to honor her wish to be buried in the nearby (-ish) town of Jefferson. Much of the story takes place in and around Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the sprawling fictional area created (and mapped) by Faulkner that was largely inspired by the writer's own home of Lafayette County.

Faulkner claims to have written the novel in six weeks while working at a power plant and that he didn't change one word upon it being submitted for publication in 1930. This uncompromising auteur approach was no doubt part of what attracted the eccentric Franco to an intriguing and challenging project.

The trailer incorporates the same kind of stream-of-consciousness style as the novel, with the actors delivering passages of Faulkner's prose in Southern drawl voiceover over images of some of the story's key events, such as the perilous crossing of a local river and the dishonoring of pregnant Bundren daughter Dewey Dell. Director-screenwriter Franco plays Darl Bundren, who serves as the story's main narrator for at least the first part of the story, and he's assembled quite the impressive cast, including Tim Blake Nelson as Anse, Logan Marshall-Green as Jewel and even Danny McBride, trying drama on for size for the first time since David Gordon Green's "All the Real Girls" (2003) as family friend Vernon Tull.

To say that Faulkner's novel makes for a difficult adaptation is an understatement, and Franco's multitasking might have kept him from giving this project the focus and attention it requires to come across as anything other than indulgent and incoherent. For now, "As I Lay Dying" at least looks spirited and pretty as it prepares for its unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival.