The beatnik generation is something that I cannot connect with, however this movie has little to do with the generation and more to do with the battle between censorship and art. Something that the judge, played by Bob Balaban, says is the latin phrase "evil to him who evil thinks" to describe how the poem "Howl" written by Allen Ginsberg (James Franco) can be misinterpreted as a promotion of homosexuality, which is interesting because Ginsberg wrote the poem without the intention of it being published because he didn't want his father to read it. This is important because in the '50s the stigma of homosexuality alienated people from their families.
Since I had never read the poem, I enjoyed a feature on the DVD that had James Franco reading the poem in its entirety. My conclusion is that "Howl" is not obscene. It is not necessary to read the poem in advance as the movie does a solid job of presenting the poem with context provided by "expert" witnesses. Much of the writing came from court documents and the prosecuting attorney, played by David Strathairn, possibly gave up in the end with his closing argument that in the court system you are allowed to bring in "expert" witnesses, however poetry isn't written for experts, but rather the common man. That is important because the interpretation from one person can be vastly different for another.
The movie is stiff as most court room dramas can be, but is accentuated by creative animation to portray elements of the play without being obscene. The animation was not expected, but helped balance the grittiness of the court room with the interview of Ginsberg and his public readings of the poem.
This movie is a solid 3 Quacks and doesn't deserve much in terms of nominations. However, is a great rental that can be enjoyed during a weeknight this winter.