James Franco wants you to know he reads William Faulkner. The ubiquitous famous person and failed fiction writer is apparently a director again, this time for As I Lay Dying, based on the 1930 Faulkner novel and debuting next week in Cannes. The just released trailer is, to be sure, a jumble of disconnected scenes: a woman lying in a bed, people fording and then falling into a river, James Franco riding a horse, James Franco trying on a Southern accent, James Franco looking intently at someone. There is a lot of James Franco in this trailer. Have a look at it yourself:
There's a reason Faulkner's novels are widely considered to be unfilmable!
Of course, it's possible that the Franco is attempting to duplicate the experience of actually reading As I Lay Dying, in which Faulkner employs a loose, stream-of-consciousness style among fifteen unique characters. But his directorial naiveté seems like the more obvious culprit. (His only other directing credit: the oddly-punctuated short film Interior. Leather Bar, in which Franco watches men have sex.) So maybe this version of James Franco was looking for an artistic challenge? After all, the notoriously industrious dilettante juggled classes at Columbia and New York Universities for a few semesters, and is now a doctoral candidate at Yale, and all the rest. How hard could filming a novel be?
Pretty tough, actually. Early reaction to the film's first look seems to be dividing along predictable lines. The novelist Alexander Chee wrote resignedly on Twitter, "I forgot we left James Franco alone with As I Lay Dying. And by we I mean 'America'." Celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton, meanwhile, announced the trailer with the following headline: "James Franco Is FABULOUS In Faulkner! See His Delightfully Dusty As I Lay Dying Trailer HERE!" As Franco himself tells GQ for its new cover story: "My public persona is something that is only partially constructed by me, so if people want to mock that, it's fine. I mock it."
We suppose it does require a certain audacity to direct a film based on canonical literature, in part because the film pretty much always fails to meet the expectations set by the quality and force of the original material. (See: War & Peace, Anna Karenina, Gatsby.) It requires even more nerve to do so as a young, first-ish-time director in hopes of creating his first serious film. Seriously, guys.