James Franco is an actor of many faces. Best known for his bland performances as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man movies, Franco is one of the most dynamic actors working today. He played a gay activist in Milk, won a Golden Globe portraying James Dean, was nominated for another for playing a funny stoner in Pineapple Express and most recently wowed audiences as a man trapped by a boulder in 127 Hours.
In Howl, Franco plays controversial poet Allan Ginsberg, who was taken to trial for his obscene language in a popular poem. Since I'm not a poetry fan, I naturally hated the movie.
Of course, I didn't hate the movie because of the poetry. I hated it because it's a boring, flat and uninteresting drama.
Its saving grace is Franco, who proves he can tackle just about any character given to him (do I smell a remake of Malcolm X coming?). Then again, the movie's presentation is so disastrously pretentious Franco's performance can hardly be called "its saving grace." It doesn't save anything.
Howl is directed by the duo of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Their documentarian background shows: the movie is a combination of talking head interviews with Franco and others, a cartoon depiction of the poem in question and a dramatization of the court case.
The interview-style approach makes you wonder why these guys bothered making a drama in the first place, the cartoon is boring and the dramatization one-dimensional. Despite a great cast that also features Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels and David Strathairn, the movie is immediately forgettable.
Howl may appeal to a few fans who both like Ginsberg and art house films, but most will find it to be an experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong. Avoid this one at all costs.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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