Friday , May 17 2024
A well-crafted adaptation as Bukowski captures the beauty in an ugliness of life.

Movie Review: Factotum

Roxanne and I met last year at a party while she was dating James, a guy I knew from work. We drifted away from the main group to watch the Lakers game and hit it off. I knew there was nothing serious between them. Never was with James. He always grew to dislike women willing to sleep with him. Some sort of self-esteem issues.

She intrigued me. A total tomboy, always talking sports and cars. I dug that she was an inch taller, but she always wore jeans so I never saw her long legs. When James dumped her for a chance to be with his first black woman, I called a couple of weeks later and slid in to provide comfort. She dug me and liked that I was a writer. I hated when she talked about it because it sounds foolish to say you’re a writer. Like the idiots who are proud of professing their virginity.

Over the summer, we got together only on Fridays. I would bring a couple bottles of red wine to her place and we’d watch the Angels play. She was a fanatic about them, so nothing happened during the game. Even when the game looked like it was out of reach, she stayed focused. That was because one of the first nights I was over the Angels were down by six runs after the sixth inning. I broke down her resolve and we made out. By the time the Angels came back up to bat, she had slid down my shorts and began giving me head. I reclined on the couch and my whole body began pulsating. The announcer loudly announced a triple that scored two runs with no outs in the inning. The Angels were mounting a comeback.

Roxanne punched me in the balls and screamed, “You selfish dick!” Since then, she barely talked when a game was on. However once it was over, unless it went too many extra innings, she raced to her bedroom. It was good sex, but predictable no matter the game’s outcome. She always climbed on top, laying flat on me and grinding away. She has a tattoo on her right breast of a snake wrapped around a dagger. Each time she rocked forward, the blade appeared to pierce my heart.

I had a screening of Factotum in Beverly Hills, so I asked her along, even though it was a Monday. She accepted begrudgingly because she doesn’t like movies. I didn’t care because I got to use the carpool lane. We sat in the back of the screening room in large cushy chairs. There were only five, so you had to get there early to claim one and stick everyone else in the movie seats. Unfortunately, the arms of the chairs were huge so she couldn’t tease me like she usually did at the movies: rubbing her hand up and down my crotch.

The room started to fill up, mainly lone male writers who left spaces between each other and twosomes of old women whose husbands had some kind of pull in the industry. Roxanne and I sipped on a fifth of Evan Williams and got a few dirty looks, which I returned. As we polished it off, Roxanne pointed out an older man with a moustache who was speaking to a 20-something intern and pointing our way. The girl looked confused.

“Sit down, Medved, you faggot!” I yelled out. He was startled, glanced down and returned to his seat. “Does anyone have a problem?” The murmuring quieted and everyone looked ahead. The lights came down and as I twisted in my seat the quill of a feather inside the seat cushion scratched along my left forearm. “You told him, baby. I’ll be right back.” She slipped out of the room.

Factotum is the second novel by Bukowski, featuring frequent protagonist/alter ego Henry Chinaski, a struggling writer, who can’t keep a job because he has yet to find a boss who will pay him to get drunk. He can only take bosses for so long, and once he gets enough money in his pocket to go on a bender, his self-sabotaging ways take over. He is simultaneously unappealing and compelling, an alcoholic who garners no sympathy yet none is requested. Rays of hope and promise are constantly eclipsed by Chinaski’s self-defeating demons. Bukowski chronicles society’s bottom rung dwellers with humor and insight, capturing the beauty in an ugliness of life.

The film’s opening scene set the tone for the whole movie. Chinaski (Matt Dillon) is working at an ice factory. The driver is out sick, so Chinaski is tasked with making the deliveries. He jumps in the truck and drives away, ripping the extension cord that is powering the truck’s refrigeration out of the wall. One stop, quite possibly his first, is at a bar. He loads a bag of ice on his back and halfheartedly closes the door, which fails to catch, so it swings back open. He drops off the ice and orders a drink. Hours later, his boss shows up. Water pours out of the back of the truck. Chinaski is understandably fired, showing no concern since he has a drink in hand.

It’s a slow, meandering life, fumbling from job to job and drink to drink. Impotent in society, though not the bedroom, he meets women who are also drinking and fucking their lives away. It works for them in the moment, but can’t last. An ugly existence, but an honest one. There’s Jan (Lili Taylor), with whom he has an on-again, off-again relationship. They don’t actually move in together, so much as they just wake up at each other’s places hung over. They are kindred spirits drawn together, addicted to the glimmers of happiness they find in the drunken orgasms they bring each other. If it’s not love, it’s as close as they can have. They know they aren’t good for each other, yet they always find good moments together.

Factotum is a great public service announcement because it doesn’t glorifying drinking, instead, revealing in a brutal honesty the vomiting, the shit-stained underwear, the venereal disease. A cycle of pathetic dreams never attained as they hide away from the mundanity of life in a bottle.

The film’s visual language is simple like Bukowski’s prose. Short and to the point, nothing fancy in the camera work or edit, yet retaining power. Bent Hamer creates substance over style at a smooth pace. The acting is first rate by the cast. Matt Dillon does a very good job. He uses his body to create Hank and hides his good looks behind a beard, which creates a faint resemblance to Bukowski. Lili Taylor sinks deep into Jan, fully investing herself, appearing to revel in the depths the character travels.

The adaptation alters the setting, but it works in the context of the film. The book takes place during the end of WWII, but the film sets no time because this story is universal. In the novel, Chinaski crisscrosses the country as he searches for employment, but in the film it all seems to take place in the same city. The timeline of the novel’s events is rearranged and pieces from different chapters are merged into scenes, yet it all works. Even though it’s early in the year, the film deserves recognition for its adapted screenplay. It provides a great lesson for screenwriters.

The credits rolled and Roxanne had never come back. I made my way out to the street and looked for the nearest bar. Through the window, there she was, chatting next to some fancy suit, leaning against him as she laughed. A ballgame was on the TV. She looked content, so I left and headed home. Racing down the freeway with the windows down, I decided I wasn’t watching the Angels on Fridays anymore. I didn’t like baseball. Never did. Instead, I would go see a movie.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Founder and Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at

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