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Review: Paint (2023)

Paint (2023)

Directed by: Brit McAdams

Premise: Painter Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson) is the host of a popular PBS program. A younger artist (Ciara Renée) is hired to host a similar show and the competition unravels Carl’s career.

What Works: Most comedy keeps its characters at a distance which allows the filmmakers to ridicule the characters and do terrible things to them without coming across meanspirited. Because of that distance, the characters of comedic films often lack depth. Paint is a comedy that is also a character study. It gets into the life of its protagonist and achieves empathy with him. Carl Nargle is a painter with an inflated sense of self, owing to his status as the star of a Vermont PBS station. He repeatedly paints different versions of the same mountain scene and the film gradually reveals the reasons for Carl’s obsession. Over the course of the story, Carl acknowledges the narrowness of his artistic output and thereby confronts the shallowness of his life. These themes give Paint some gravitas; it’s a funny movie that’s tinted with melancholy. The humor is subdued and the cast are in tune with the pitch of the story. Paint is led by Owen Wilson as Carl. Wilson excels in playing soft spoken characters and this is an excellent fit with his skill set. The station staff are primarily women and many of them have a crush on Carl, in particular a younger production assistant played by Lucy Freyer and a director played by Michaela Watkins. Each of the female characters is distinct with a specific look and personality of their own. Paint also has a notable supporting performance by Stephen Root as the station manager. Root has great comic delivery and he gets many of the best moments in the film. 

What Doesn’t: Viewers should go into Paint with some awareness of what the film is not. The fictional character of Carl Nargle is clearly inspired by real life painter and public television host Bob Ross but this is not Ross’ story. The presence of comic actors might lead viewers to expect that Paint is the equivalent of Anchorman but Paint’s offbeat tone has more in common with Wes Anderson’s lighter movies than it does with Adam McKay’s goofy comedies. Paint suffers from a compromised conclusion. The filmmakers set up a tragically comic ending that would be a fitting and even poignant conclusion but they don’t follow it through. Instead, the filmmakers try to reconcile dark irony with a happy ending. It’s not a terrible denouement but the ending is not as interesting as the rest of the movie.

Bottom Line: Paint is an offbeat comedy with a delicate tone and performances that are in harmony with the film’s unique pitch. It’s not a laugh riot but it is a unique little movie.

Episode: #944 (April 16, 2023)