Film Review: ‘The Color of Time,’ an NYU Film Project

December 10, 2014 Updated: December 10, 2014

Couple years ago, James Franco taught a film class at NYU and had 12 of his students write and direct fictional scripts, based on the life of poet C.K. Williams, as a graduation project.

That the resultant film is out there now for public viewing is indicative of Franco’s having either a huge ego or none at all.

Either he thinks his every creative whim doesn’t stink, and we should all be delighted to sample the length and breadth of his creative endeavors, or it’s the selfless mentoring of a caring teacher.

Bet on the latter. James Franco probably wanted to give his students the screen time they’d otherwise need years of hard work to gain access to, along with the thrill of getting a taste of the big time, and working with some of his famous friends.

Because it’s otherwise a fairly dreadful viewing experience. It figures to be a sort of fictional filmic tone poem, wherein the poet Williams prepares for one of his readings and revisits old memories.

How do we know this? Because of the endless voiceover poetry recitation, courtesy of Franco. OK, maybe there’s a teeny bit of ego involved here. No, you can’t have some NYU acting student doing the voiceover when Jessica Chastain and Mila Kunis are involved.

We see Williams as a young boy at various life stages, represented by various actors, including Franco himself, and the women in his life, namely his mother (Jessica Chastain), his puppy-love (Danika Yarosh), and his wife (Mila Kunis).

Being that these are mostly A-listers, the acting can’t be argued with. But the whole mood is reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s work, with Chastain playing a similar character to the one she played in Malick’s exquisite “Tree of Life.”

The fact that a bunch of fledgling writer-directors all managed to get on the same page stylistically, enough to evoke the work of a professional far above their grade, with no one glaringly pulling focus, is probably a testament to Franco’s instruction.

However the nonlinear plot frustrates, and modern poetry, confusing enough on the page where you have the opportunity to read lines repeatedly, is doubly frustrating in film. Granted, this was a graduate film course about doing just that.

The reviewer submits that for this to work, you need the opposite of Christopher Walken’s “More cowbell!” skit on SNL. “Less voiceover!” After a while, the poetry recitation might as well be white noise. Isn’t white colorless? That’s ironic, given the movie’s title.


‘The Color of Time’
Directors: 12 NYU film school students: Edna Luise Biesold, Sarah-Violet Bliss, Gabrielle Demeestere, Alexis Gambis, Brooke Goldfinch, Shripriya Mahesh, Pamela Romanowsky, Bruce Thierry Cheung, Tine Thomasen, Virginia Urreiztieta, Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo
Starring: James Franco, Jessica Chastain, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Bruce Campbell, Henry Hopper
Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes
Release date: Dec. 12
Rated R

2.5 star out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch