10/11/2013 08:20 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Popcorn Preview: As I Lay Dying

Film: As I Lay Dying (2013)
Cast includes: James Franco (127 Hours), Ahna O'Relly (The Help), Logan Marshall-Green (Brooklyn's Finest), Jim Parrack (Battle Los Angeles), Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Beth Grant (No Country for Old Men), Brady Permenter
Director: James Franco (Child of God)
Genre: Drama (110 minutes) Based on the 1930 novel by William Falkner

You can hear distant thunder as Addie lies down to wait for death. "My father used to say the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time." The Mississippi heat is oppressive. The women with Addie fan themselves as they wait. Through the open window, Addie can hear her son, Cash sawing wood for the coffin. It's a comforting sound because Addie wants her flesh and blood to get her buried. Her sons are outside, except that Jewel's not around. "Probably fooling with that damn horse," says Anse, Addie's husband. Jewel and Darl are brothers... same mother, anyway... and they're getting the wagon ready to make a delivery. Anse protests. "If she don't last till you get back, she'll be disappointed." But they promise the old man they'll be home in time. "It were her only wish," he says. Addie wants to be buried in Jefferson, and it'll be a long trip in the wagon. Jewel and Darl need the $3 they're gettin paid for the delivery, so they have to go. "It's fixin up to rain," warns Anse. "I wouldn't keep her waitin."

"It takes two people to be born, but it only takes one person to die," Darl says. Their mother does die while they're away, and the rain comes, too. The sky just opens up and darn near washes everything away. The wagon slides into a ditch, and they won't get it going again till they fix the wheel that come off. Anyway, Cash is still finishing the coffin... and quite proud of it, he is. Anse has Addie put in the coffin backwards so her weddin dress won't get wrinkled. Cash protests, but Anse won't hear it. As usual, Cash gives in to the toothless, stubborn old man. When Jewel and Darl get back, the neighbors warn against tryin to make the trip. The bridge is probably washed out. But Anse's "mind is set on takin her to Jefferson." By now, the body is startin to smell, and the heat has returned. But the family piles into the wagon with the coffin... everyone but Jewel, who rides his own horse... and they set off on the ill-fated journey.

Through conversations with different characters, we learn that each has different motivations... "Something just underneath the surface, just waitin for a moment..." But Anse's stubbornness is a force of nature... they'll have to bend... hoping not to break. Based on the 1930 novel by William Falkner, this film carefully weaves together a story that was originally narrated by 15 different characters. This is the first film adaption of what is considered, by most accounts, a challenging narrative. Actor/director/writer, James Franco seems to relish a challenge, and the film is both complex and compelling. You should know going in that you probably won't understand every plot element... even if you've read the book. Franco has stayed true to the novel and retained an enigmatic quality. Yet, he's simplified enough of the narrative to keep us engaged. The filming is interesting and the acting is exceptional. As the family relentlessly pushes on, tension builds and buzzards circle overhead. It's a tragic journey, but there's no melodrama. One way or another, "God's will be done." ... if it really is God's will.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A southern gothic story about a Mississippi farm family taking mom's body in a mule-drawn wagon for burial in her hometown

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R (Violence, Sexual Content)
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Mainstream limited release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Primary Driver: Character development
Language: Artful
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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