While teaching at New York University's graduate film program, James Franco tasked 12 students with directing short adaptations of poems from C.K. Williams' collection "Tar."
The result is the tastefully dreamy if weightless collage "The Color of Time," which coalesces its fragments into a memory piece starring Franco as Williams, ruminating on aspects of his past, with flashbacks featuring Jessica Chastain as an ethereally pretty mother and Zach Braff as a sick friend. (Mila Kunis plays Williams' wife.)
The time frame covers decades, from boyhood anxiety to adolescent experimentation with drugs and girls to the decay of cities, with the thread being how these experiences turned Williams into a guy in front of a typewriter, searching for words.
But while Franco may be the artistic instigator of this class project, and Williams' verse a thin narrative glue, it's in the pastoral meanderings and brush-like camera strokes that "The Color of Time" reveals its overriding influence: Terrence Malick at his spiritually wispiest.
A deliberately delicate indie bath of atmosphere and strained lyricism, "The Color of Time" is an odd bird in that its 12 cooks don't necessarily spoil the broth. The problem is that they leave it as broth.
"The Color of Time."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.