What does my having gone to CalArts at the same time as Michael Polish have to do with this review? Nothing. Nevertheless, I wanted to support a classmate's efforts, even if I never knew the guy, and I did like the first film put out by Michael and his twin brother Mark, Twin Falls Idaho, a quirky but touching look at the brothers' closeness as they reimagined themselves as Siamese twins.

Northfork finds the Polishes with a bigger budget, bigger stars, and bigger ideas that don't often work.

Set in 1955, Northfork is about its fictitious namesake, a small Montana town about to be flooded – a little too biblically – by a nearby dam. Most of the residents have been paid off by the government and are gone. A few stragglers stay put, however, and so a half dozen G-men in black suits (with angelic white feathers in their hats – another too-obvious bit of symbolic imagery) have arrived to clear them out.

Throughout all this, the town's priest (Nick Nolte) is caring for a sickly orphan (Duel Farnes), the only child left in his orphanage. A good portion of the film takes place in the boy's imagination, as he pictures himself a healthy lad cavorting with a quartet of eccentric angels in a nearby house.

With lots of dreamy imagery and little substance to hold it all up, this is a film that tries too hard to be "visionary". True, the sort of angels that might be conjured up by a resourceful young boy would probably have a childlike way about them, but the presentation – despite strong acting, especially by Daryl Hannah (in a cropped brunette wig that makes her look for all the world like an older Liv Tyler) – is far too precious. Meanwhile, the government men – namely James Woods and Mark Polish as a father-son team – encounter numerous Coen- and/or Lynch-inspired kooks, and the preciousness compounds.

M. David Mullen (another CalArts grad from my year) provides some incredible cinematography, but after a while the film becomes embalmed by its own style. On the upside, Nick Nolte is wonderful, and I usually hate Nick Nolte. I guess I found him so good because for once he isn't barking and screaming. Duel Farnes is also excellent in his debut role. Together, they bring about a surprisingly sweet conclusion that almost forgives the film's plodding artsiness.