Monday, June 30, 2014

Factotum (2005)

Although he's a poet first and foremost, the novels of Charles Bukowski are a treat.  I've read four of his six books and had the opportunity to indulge and vicariously experience the life of this legendary author through the exploits of autobiographical character Henry Chinaski. There's Ham on Rye (1982), the stark tale of loser-kid turned loser-adolescent, Women (1978), the crudest and sultriest all-out fuckfest, and my personal favorite Post Office (1971), the epic recounting of that age-old American profession on which many rely yet few understand. And then there's Factotum (1975), the one where Hank works all the low-life jobs, never staying anywhere for long at all.

Factotum was a good choice to adapt to film because it's got a bit of everything: alcohol and typewriters, bar scenes, funny work situations in abundance, floozy girls, devilish luck at the horse races.  It's not as excessive as Women which would need to be pornographic to encapsulate the book (the nudity here is minor, not that I'm complaining).  A factotum is an employee who does all kinds of work.  As Henry Chinaski, Matt Dillon goes from dead-end job to dead-end job, never lasting more than a few paychecks for reasons of varying cause.  Dillon has that "without ambition" air about him that makes each untimely termination or alcoholic binge both believable and somehow inspiring.  He's not concerned with making good impressions, or keeping them, and when it's payday he's spending that damn money quick.  Lili Taylor plays Jan which surprised me at first to see her in the role since I always imagined a more attractive woman.  I think her character altogether brings the most realism to the movie version of Factotum and deflates some of its more mystic qualities.  There's no more magic to Jan; what you see is what you get.  She's neither Audrey Hepburn nor Olivia Wilde; she's a middle-aged woman of passable looks, decent body, and she likes wine and likes to fuck.  How does Chinaski do it at the race tracks?  We'll never know, but here his relationship with Jan is...understandable.

As far as capturing the spirit of the novel, Factotum does a pretty good job for the most part.  Although I was constantly amused, I think inevitably a bit of the outlandish, funny tone is lost by seeing things through video rather than hearing the story through Bukowski's writing.  There's something about the way the old man himself tells a story that's just superior to the directing of some middle-aged Norwegian.  Maybe the formula can be pulled off better; afterall, this is only the first Bukowski adaptation I've seen.  Buy hey, I liked it.