Last week I saw a rarity in American literature: a novel that was adapted into a play and then made into a movie — all by the original author, John Steinbeck. The new Broadway production of “Of Mice and Men” was good, but not good enough. That said, Chris O’Dowd’s performance as Lenny was amazing. Every minute that he was the focus of the scene, the production was as good as it gets. He brought dimension and empathy to this mentally disabled character and gave Lenny surprising depth.
But I was very disappointed in James Franco’s performance as George. His portrayal of Lenny’s protector was starkly one-dimensional, particularly in comparison to O’Dowd’s extraordinarily rich portrayal. Franco seems to confuse anger with angst. For me, George is a sort of Steinbeck Willie Loman at 30. He has the dream of having a farm and living independently “off of the land” But Franco never shows us his buy-in to the dream and the angst that dream produces as he trudges through his hard existence. And while he protects and supports Lenny, we never see his emotional attachment to Lenny. We see his responsibility to Lenny, but not his love for Lenny.
There is definitely a sense of ensemble among the men of the large cast, but they never seem to capture the strange tough-guy lyricism that makes Steinbeck’s drama an ode to laborers. Leighton Meester, as the floozy wife of the boss’s son, is terribly miscast. While her role is little more than a mechanical plot element, she at least needs to be believable as a would-be seductress. The sets are evocative. But Franco’s one-note performance against O’Dowd’s deeply moving portrayal creates a disappointing imbalance among mice and men.