**** out of *****
Last year, James Franco plunged his lead actor Scott Haze into the unenviable position of having to go ‘full retard’ as a psychotic half-wit in Child of God, the genuinely great film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s shocking book. The real detriment of going ‘full retard’, however, was not scoring an Oscar, but the fact that Haze played a character who takes a crap on screen, wipes his poopy-butt with a stick, watches young lovers get it on in the back seat of their car whilst he jerks off, murders a host of honey-pies, has sex with corpses and then dons their clothing when he goes on a mad transvestite-like killing rampage against a whole passel of lawmen.
Here we are, one year later, and Franco hands the brilliant Haze the role of Jason Compson, easily one of the most reprehensible figures in American literature. Haze is probably thanking Franco for this one, though, since Franco reserves the ‘retard’ challenge all for his lonesome, playing Jason’s ‘tetched in the head’ little brother Benjy. Replete with ludicrous buck-toothed prosthetics, plenty eyeball rolling, grunting and drooling, Franco goes further on the ‘full retard’ front than any actor in film history.
This is Franco’s second stab at William Faulkner in so many years, and it far outdoes his shot at As I Lay Dying. Faulkner – to my mind – is completely unsuitable a literary source for film adaptation. God knows many have tried and failed miserably, but Franco just keeps on giving the gift that keeps on giving.
Here’s my bias. I love James Franco as a director. He spits in the face of everything and everybody, does what he damn well pleases and makes movies like nobody else in contemporary America.
Here he tackles the meandering tale of the once-rich-and-powerful Compson family dynasty of the Deep South and infuses it with the most delectably over-the-top melodrama imaginable. He divides his film into three chapters, primarily focusing upon the Compson brothers: simpleton Benjy, scumbag Jason and the doomed Quentin (Jacob Leob). In the mix we’ve got ‘fallen’ sister Caddy (Ahna O’Reilly), her ‘bastard’ child Miss Quentin (Joey King), loyal housekeeper Dilsey (Loretta Divine) and even hockey star Wayne Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, as the deluded Compson matriarch. The family basically snipes at each other, loses all their land, while foul Jason steals, lies, vents, abuses and bullies his way through his pathetic life.
And what of Benjy, our ‘full retard’? Well shucks, he’s a mite jealous when his beloved sister starts a-rollin’ in the hay with eager male suitors, so he begins a-stalkin’ some local gals and does somethin’ he shouldn’t ougtha be doin’.
This is pure, delicious Southern Gothic at its most insane. It even indulges in some delightful Terence Malick Tree of Life shenanigans, which play like parody of the highest order. Some might believe Faulkner would be spinning in his grave over this one, but I doubt it. I think even he might have himself as rip-roaring a good time as I did.