We haven't always been kind to James Franco, and his adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying seemed ripe for ridicule, but new reviews indicate perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. The reviews for the film trickling out of Cannes aren't necessarily good, but they also aren't awful. In his three-star review, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian explains that Franco uses split screen in the film as a reference to how the book switches narrators. Bradshaw writes: "This may look 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." Bradshaw has some complaints with Franco's own portrayal of Darl, but, hey, at least the movie is "worthwhile."
Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent gave the film two stars but finds some things worthy of praise, such as comparing his work at one point to Terrence Malick's. Whether that's a positive or negative, we guess, depends on your attitude toward Malick. But Macnab liked Malick's Tree of Life, he gave it four stars at Cannes in 2011 and started his review with, "You have to admire Terrence Malick's cussedness and perversity." Of Franco, Macnab wrote that his "approach to the task is bold and yields some startlingly beautiful sequences but, as feature length drama, it is also lumpy and very uneven." OK, so "lumpy and very uneven" is bad, but "bold" and "beautiful" is good!
And while Kevin Jagernauth of Indiewire calls the film, hilariously, "William Faulkner's Oregon Trail," Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter writes, almost incredulously, that "James Franco has pulled off a devilishly difficult literary adaptation with this faithful yet cinematically vibrant version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying." Then again, while Franco may have made a good effort, that doesn't necessarily mean his film is enjoyable. McCarthy's THR colleague tweeted:
AS I LAY DYING had French subtitles… it needed English subtitles, too.— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) May 20, 2013