Review: HOWL (Sundance)
PLOT: James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg, in this docudrama centering on the publication of his famous poem HOWL, and the obscenity trial his publishers faced afterwards.
REVIEW: HOWL is a film that will definitely bewilder many audience members when it inevitably hits the art-house cinema circuit later this year. Its an experimental film thats essentially a docudrama, with occasional animated sequences that dramatize Ginsbergs prose.
Obviously, star Franco, and directors Rob Epstein, and Jeffrey Friedman (both of whom previously helmed the landmark TIMES OF HARVEY MILK doc, which inspired Gus Van Sant to make his film) know their stuff when it comes to Ginsberg. If youre looking for an accessible look at his life and work, look elsewhere; this is catered to people who are intimately familiar with his work. Sadly, this means Im among those this IS NOT made for, so I was at a bit of a loss throughout the film.
However, while I found it unbearably pretentious at times, I did not hate HOWL. Theres too much craft and talent put into this to automatically dismiss it. I also respect the fact that, in some ways, a typical biopic would not be appropriate for a guy like Ginsberg. HOWLs a lot like the Todd Haynes, Bob Dylan flick; IM NOT THERE, although this isnt quite as good as that film. This is a little too bogged down in its own inflated sense of importance to be completely successful.
Regarding the acting, across the board- everyone is excellent. Franco, while not the obvious choice (I would have gone with David Cross- who played him in IM NOT THERE) does great work as Ginsberg, and hes got the voice down pat. MAD MENs Jon Hamm also does solid work as Jake Erlich, ho defended Ginsbergs text as art in the obscenity trial. As his opponent, David Strathairn is excellent- but really, who would expect anything less from him at this point. I also enjoyed seeing WEEDS Mary Louise Parker turn up in a tiny (meaning about thirty seconds of screen-time) role.
All in all, HOWLs a film that I respected, more than enjoyed. Its a well made, unconventional film, although not something that I found particularly moving or inspiring, as I felt it kept me at an arms length throughout. However, if youre a Ginsberg devotee, have at it! Youre bound to get more out of it than I did.