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With: James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny McBride, Logan Marshall-Green, Ahna O'Reilly, Jim Parrack, Beth Grant, Jesse Heiman, Scott Haze, Brady Permenter
Written by: James Franco, based on a novel by William Faulkner
Directed by: James Franco
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing images, some sexual content and brief nudity
Running Time: 110
Date: 10/11/2013

As I Lay Dying (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gnarly Darl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It has been decades since anyone attempted to adapt a William Faulkner novel for the big screen, and certainly As I Lay Dying -- a novel with fifteen different narrators -- was a difficult choice for actor/writer/director and all-around Renaissance man James Franco. Perhaps the easiest thing would have been to make one of those glossy, reverent, literary movies that never sprang to life. What Franco came up with instead with is messy, bizarre, muted, and confusing, but it's also heartfelt and personal. It takes more risks than most movies.

It's 1930 in Mississippi, and Addie Bundren (Beth Grant) is dying. She lies in bed listening to her son Cash (Jim Parrack) building her coffin. The rest of her family, her husband Anse (Tim Blake Nelson) and her children Darl (James Franco), Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), Dewey Dell (Ahna O'Reilly), and Vardaman (Brady Permenter) react to her death in different ways. The atmosphere grows darker when the family bands together to transport Addie's coffin back to her hometown for burial. The family must deal with flooded rivers, a broken leg, and a barn fire. Can the family withstand these tests and stick together?

Franco is not precious about the period details. The costumes look like actual clothing, and the sets feel like real, lived-in places. The Mississippi accents are thick and unruly; it's very difficult to understand much of what Tim Blake Nelson -- who mumbles through a mouthful of rotten teeth -- says. Indeed, it's difficult to tune into any individual character, but the overall mood and the sense of family connection are quite strong.

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