Written and Directed by Brit McAdams.
Starring Owen Wilson, Michaela Watkins, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ciara Renée, Lusia Strus, Stephen Root, Lucy Freyer, Denny Dillon, Evander Duck Jr., Elisabeth Henry-Macari, Michael Pemberton, Rob Figueroa, Elizabeth Loyacano, Sonia Darmei Lopes, Joel Leffert, and Noa Graham.
Carl Nargle, Vermont’s #1 public television painter, is convinced he has it all: a signature perm, custom van, and fans hanging on his every stroke… until a younger, better artist steals everything (and everyone) Carl loves.
In Brit McAdams’ confounding Paint, Owen Wilson plays Carl Nargle, a fictional Vermont PBS painting show host that regularly entertains the elderly from their retirement homes, bar patrons, and more. He’s a local celebrity and seems to have been modeled after Bob Ross, complete with a perm and wholesome, inspirational musings while painting on live television. There is also a funny early joke where one of those phrases is taken as sexual innuendo. It works, considering most of us have probably twisted lines or done something similar to make them sound dirty at some point in our lives. No one is above juvenile humor here and there.
Quickly, it becomes apparent that this is the only gag Paint has, as it often goes into flashbacks, sometimes up to 22 years ago (where, distractingly, no one looks younger), with Carl generally intimate with different women. As his popularity boomed, he started paying less attention to his girlfriend Katherine (Michaela Watkins) in favor of fan attention and signing various body parts (because women just love having their bodies signed by public access show painters in the real world), causing her to cheat on him with a delivery truck driver eventually. Carl leaned further into his womanizing, chasing after women in his work environment.
In the present day, Paint wants to be an exploration of a man far out of touch with the world (oftentimes to an unbelievable degree, not knowing what Uber is) that, while not necessarily a monster, has made mistakes in his love life and frequently conducted himself unprofessionally toward women at the TV station, often using them to fill the void left behind by losing Katherine.
As far as juxtapositions go, PBS painters with a history of using co-workers as a muse, drawing them portraits inside his hippie van, and having sex is a crazy one that could have worked if the script could look beyond making a joke out of it. Paint is far more engaging when it allows Owen Wilson to act as Carl reflects on his life and how he should finally move forward. Other times, it comes across as a one-note joke of Owen Wilson playing himself by way of Bob Ross as a clueless sexist.
However, Brit McAdams has made another grave mistake in tossing a younger painter into the mix named Ambrosia (Ciara Renée), who makes weird drawings like bloody UFOs and starts capturing younger and older audiences. This makes for a competitive plotline (the TV station is financially struggling and needs changes), as for reasons that will remain unspoiled, Carl is only interested in drawing the same mountain over and over. Things become more complicated when Ambrosia starts getting close to Katherine, who still works at the TV station, because she opted out of college to be with Carl. Meanwhile, Carl is somewhat entangled with a younger co-worker (Lucy Freyer) with whom he doesn’t have a sexual drive, presumably because his heart still belongs to Katherine.
There’s nothing wrong with Paint going for a quirky comedic tone, but so much of the movie and character choices don’t exist in reality; they feel forced. The movie can’t even decide whether people still want to watch Carl paint or not, using that plot thread for narrative convenience. Characters fall in love despite nothing happening to suggest that they might be interested in one another that way. Brit McAdams seems disinterested in exploring workplace sexual intimacy when initiated by Ambrosia or other women. And then there are roughly three different endings, each more absurd than the last.
Owen Wilson is doing his best to get to the core of this sad and flawed human, reflecting and questioning his place in life and seeking improvement, trapped inside a script that doesn’t seem to understand human relationships, television, viewer demographics, clever comedy, or how to tackle its workplace sexual misconduct themes. The storytelling approach to Paint is akin to splashing paint anywhere and everywhere and hoping something stands out as meaningful or thought-provoking; it doesn’t.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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