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In his recent tear through an AP American Lit syllabus, James Franco has played poets Allen Ginsberg and Hart Crane and adapted William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. Among the actor-director-whatever’s other endeavors are an upcoming Charles Bukowski biopic and The Color of Time, a faded gimcrack of a film, in which Franco plays the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet C.K. Williams.
While the This Is the End star’s enthusiasm for (white, male) lit-luminaries is admirable, it’s disappointing that Franco can’t marshal his unflagging energies and famous friends like Mila Kunis and Jessica Chastain into anything more interesting than reciting Williams’s poetry in voiceover while re-creating familiar scenes of domestic turmoil. But surely Franco isn’t entirely to blame; some of the fault lies with the film’s 11 directors, whose polished, washed-out, visually consistent contributions aren’t separated into individual chapters, but pieced together into an atmospheric whole. A long interlude in which the younger “Charlie” (Henry Hopper) dabbles in prostitution and exhibitionism feels pointless, while a late scene in which the married poet loses his libido upon learning about the nuclear accident on Three Mile Island reaches rare heights of unintentional hilarity. When Kunis gives Franco an affectionate, wifely kiss, all he can think about is industrial smelting.
Franco is a fine reader, but ultimately the film adds little more than his handsome face and trite confessional origins to Williams’s experiential vernacular. When the words are so direct, powerful, and inviting, who needs Franco’s books on video?