20 Dec

Title: Howl
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
James Franco, Aaron Tveit, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Mary-Louise Parker, John Prescott, Alessandro Nivola, Bob Balaban, Jeff Daniels, Treat Williams
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
85 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:


I’m a big fan of Allen Ginsberg, and Howl, the film depicting the obscenity trial he went through after the publication of the poem of the film’s title, certainly doesn’t disappoint. And the liking I have for this film is mostly due to James Franco, who portrays Ginsberg and who’s probably the actor who had the best 2010: the guy was seen on television, on that stint on General Hospital as well as playing himself on 30 Rock, had supporting performances in Eat Pray Love as well as in Date Night, and of course there’s also his masterful starring performance in 127 Hours, in addition to this one, in which he also excels.

And Mr. Franco really rocks as Ginsberg, and you can tell that he has a real passion for the subject matter as you see his electrifying performance unravel. The film is far from perfect, there are some things in it that don’t really work, but because Mr. Franco anchors the movie so powerfully everything else ends up being okay, and we spend a good chunk of the movie hearing him making his way through the poem, and he’s really good at delivering it, this guy just feels as though he would have most certainly been a part of the Beat Generation had he been born in that era.

This is a film that surely won’t be amazing for everyone, but it surely was amazing for me. I’m a fan of the poem it’s based on, and I’m a fan of the man who wrote it, and as an exploration of writers, and the creative process they go through, this is a film that seriously works. And it’s because the Beats are just an amazing bunch of people that it works so well. I’m a huge fan of their work, and I love how legendary they and their lifestyle and work have become. And as such, a film focusing on a decisive point in their history and a pivotal man in their formation certainly did the trick for me.

And it’s precisely because Howl deals with such an early stage in the history of this movement that it feels so innocent in some ways. It sees one of the fathers of a generation as he becomes what he would be, as he was creating the magnum opus that would stimulate so many minds to this very day, and as he, a man who would be one of the first prominent openly gay men, didn’t want his father to find out about his homosexuality. And it really is riveting to see this part of Ginsberg’s life, before he was so open about everything and was just a rather unsure young man, before he was such a legend and was just a regular young guy, driven by the thrill of creating art.

I loved how everything is portrayed here by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film’s directors and writers, they have a very good sense of how it all was, and how to properly show it. The courtroom scenes and its dialogue are taken straight from the transcripts. And very well portrayed were also the scenes before the trial, which focused on the life of Ginsberg, which included parts with Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky, the guy he’d live with until his death in 1997.

And then of course the best parts are when he’s at that coffehouse, reading aloud that poem, with Mr. Franco’s wonderful voice and presence just bringing the powerful poem to life in front of us, but then that best part of the film also brings forth the worst part of the movie. Because, as I just said, Mr. Franco is fully able to bring the poem’s wild imagery to life by himself, and yet the film has a need to try and aid him with these animations that illustrate the poem, animations that while very honest and literal don’t manage to capture at all the poetic sense of the words, and that feel wholly unnecessary to the purpose of the film.

But besides those animations I loved how this film treated this poem from the time of its birth. The poem to us is a classic, a very wild one, sure, but one that we’re used to hearing being discussed in classes and stimulate massive discussions amongst our classmates. But to watch the reaction that very same poem had at that time, to see how people behaved in reaction to it, and how it would make its indelible stamp on modern poetry is just amazing.

This is just one very strong film, the animation bits of it feel like a very weak component in an otherwise outstanding movie, but the performance given by Mr. Franco here more than makes up for it, he is really amazing, and I guess part of the reason why I don’t like the animations at all is because I would have much rather had the camera focus on Mr. Franco, who inhabits Ginsberg to perfection, and gives a performance as raw and powerful as the poem that inspired the film.

Grade: B+


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