Factotum is Just Ho-Hum
starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, and Marisa Tomei
It shouldn't be that hard to develop a great film from a great Charles Bukowski novel or screenplay, but after Barfly (from a Bukowski screenplay) and now Factotum (from one of his most overlooked novels), it seems like the big screen might not be the place to capture the humor, tone, and feeling of LA's finest poet.
Matt Dillon does an excellent Buk impersonation, but the problem is the movie star can't help looking like a movie star. His 5 o'clock shadow looks like he just got it trimmed at Jonathan's on Wilshire. The beauty of Bukowski and his alter-ego Henry Chinaski is that they're both ugly, dirty, broke booze hounds who have boils on their backs and craters in their face, so when they score the girl it's a huge deal. When Matt Dillon as Chinaski gets the girl he's the prettiest face on the screen -- not a situation that Hank ever ran into.
Lili Taylor was cast perfectly. She looks crazy, she acts craxy, she is able to shake off her good looks and have you believe in her character.
What's also missing is Bukowski's humor. One of the most inspiring things about Chinaski is that even when he's down he can always crack a joke, not necessarily a positive up-beat keep-your-chin up joke, but you don't read a Bukowski book and leave depressed. You could easilly leave this film bummed out, if not because of the somber tone, but because here we have another chance at Hank on the big screen that could have done something much bigger and better.
Speaking of bigger and better, why not John Goodman as Chinaski next time, or even Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange? Again, the role is one of a down-on-his-luck loser who occassionally gets lucky. Anyone who was once a teen heartthrob should be excluded from ever being allowed to portray Henry Chinaski.
Factotum is getting far higher reviews than this one on RottenTomatoes, where 75% of their movie critics have rated the film in a postive manner -- making it one of the best-reviewed films of the summer. So maybe you should judge for yourself. If you haven't yet read Factotum and plan on seeing the movie, take this bit of advice: see the film first and then read the book. The novel is a short, easy, fun ride and the film plays into the myth of Bukowski, and not its reality.
Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena are showing the film, and if you're on the wesssside you can check it out at the Nu Wilshire in Santa Monica. You might want to throw back a few before you get in there, so as to keep it real.