When I'm shitfaced in a bar flirting with some guy whose face I can barely distinguish, I think of Charles Bukowski. When I'm working manual labor for 10 bucks an hour, I think how I have it so much better than he did. But sometimes, I wish I had it just as bad—just so one day, maybe I could be as good. This is the sentiment that the film version of Bukowski's novel, Factotum, will inspire.
If you've ever read Bukowski, you know that he makes little effort to disguise himself as the protagonist of his books—and in Factotum, that protagonist/alter ego is, once again, named Henry Chinaski. Factotum is thus something of a real-life account of Bukowski's struggles before fame and fortune. And it wasn't a glorious rise.
A way-too- handsome Matt Dillon plays Chinaski/ Bukowski—but if you ignore his face, Dillon actually does a pretty good job of capturing Bukowski's arrogance, his wounded soul, and the poetic cadence of his voice. Lili Taylor plays Chinaski's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jan, and even though Taylor is undoubtedly one of the most annoying actresses on the planet, she works fine here as a needy, chain-smoking drunk.
For writers and creative types, the film has a profound message. Even though Chinaski is working menial jobs, sleeping on park benches, stealing cigarettes, and spending his last dollar on booze, he's always writing. He's blindly confident in his talent, and so physically compelled to spill words onto paper that he relentlessly churns out two or three stories a week. Eventually, as we now know, his diligence will pay off—in the film, though, this triumphant moment is appropriately muted. And that's the charm of Factotum: It doesn't fancy anything up. Bukowski was poor, fucked up, and had a depressing life. And that's exactly what inspired him to become a great writer.