20 June 2010

Review: Howl

Genre: Drama (Biography)

Directors' Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's biographical adaptation Howl, exploring the personal and social implications of the eponymous poem by Allen Ginsberg onto his life and his culture, is at its best a finely acted and illuminative exposition of the work, set to the tones and times in which it was written. Leading actor's James Franco's performance is expressive and facilitative of the narrative back- and front-story of the author's personal and intellectual life. Though necessarily constrained by the circumstances of his appearances, Mr. Franco delivers in subtle ways that make the audience appreciate the sincerity of his efforts as much as they may the dedicated insights into his character's poetry, which is used as the template structure for the entire piece. Delicate and colorful animations realize the lyrical verse in timed interludes between the ontological and manifestly lexical conversation of the retrospective Ginsberg, being interviewed alone in his cluttered New-York-City apartment by an almost entirely unseen and unheard interviewer, with the philosophical trial, assaying and assailing the title poem for its perhaps brusk honesty to its permissively libertine characters. Favored actors and actresses (e. g., Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker) dot the trial's landscape with their own rather individually neurotic plays on perspectival archetypes, better written in the screenplay than perhaps given credit here, and the sea of faces, ever present in the eye of the lens by these actors and actresses' appearances and by the appearances of those others who form the audiences at that trial and at Ginsberg's reading, reinforce the notion of inclusion that the poem, it is argued, proposes to make (both of its characters as cultural touchstones and of its readers as the culturally touched). Negative elements, detracting from these aforementioned positive, may only be the rather simplistic triangular device, used to apportion the film to the three primary plot-lines that advance and together complicate its theoretically simple (i. e., straightforward) story, and the rather stiff way in which Mr. John Hamm (of Mad Men celebrity) insisted on comporting his character, a lawyer but not an altogether unfeeling man. Still, these instances of misguidance or misdirection are rather indulgent criticisms for a film that is otherwise an accomplishment of its major aims. For all this merit, Howl deservedly receives

Grade: A-/B+.

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