REVIEW: “Paint” (2023)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

There’s just something that feels right about Owen Wilson in an offbeat indie comedy playing a soft-spoken Bob Ross-esque television painter. That’s exactly what we get in the aptly titled “Paint” from writer-director Brit McAdams. Wilson has always been able to slide right into the skins of his many eccentric and slightly maladjusted characters. TV artist Carl Nargle is certainly in the actor’s wheelhouse.

This silly, slightly uneven, but often funny feature is mostly set in and around a Burlington, Vermont public television station and lives off of the inherent wackiness of its lead character. Wilson’s Bob Ross inspired performance is spot-on, overtly calling back to the late real-life artist and PBS staple. That ends up being enough to keep things entertaining while also making the story’s handful of misfires easier to get past.

“Paint with Carl Nargle” has been Vermont’s top-rated painting show for nearly three decades. It’s made Carl somewhat of a regional celebrity, with his loyal viewers entranced by each stroke of his brush and every whisper-soft word he utters. He even has groupies at the station who wait on him hand and foot and who vie for their chance to “go to a special place” with Carl (often in the back of his van). Meanwhile, the station’s assistant manager and Carl’s old flame, Katherine (Michaela Watkins) endures it all while secretly considering a new job offering in Albany.

Image Courtesy of IFC Films

In very Bob Ross fashion, Carl’s show consists of him painting one landscape per episode (mostly of the nearby Mount Mansfield, but no one seems to mind). Carl seems content with his local fame, yet deep down what he wants most is to have a painting in the Burlington Museum of Art. Unfortunately for him, the museum’s crusty curator Dr. Bradford Lenihan (Michael Pemberton) has no interest in Carl’s work.

Meanwhile budget cuts are making things tough on the station’s director, Tony (Stephen Root). To pep things up, he brings in a younger and more energetic new painter named Ambrosia (Ciara Renée). As she grows more popular she quickly begins stealing Carl’s thunder. Soon they have a full-blown rivalry between the old stalwart and the fresh new flavor. It all comes to a head during a hysterical PBS telethon where McAdams really shows his instincts for good comedy. But after that high point, the movie slowly loses some of its steam.

It’s the story that begins to sputter. And even at an economic 96 minutes, it has a hard time filling its running time. That’s not to say there aren’t still funny moments sprinkled throughout. Quite the opposite. The humor stays pretty consistent with McAdams utilizing Wilson’s comic quirkiness in a variety of fun ways. It’s the story itself that loses its zing. There’s a good central storyline about Carl’s deflated ego leading him to finally see what’s important in life. It’s the relationship stuff that just doesn’t click.

Image Courtesy of IFC Films

The biggest victim of this happens to be one of the more interesting characters – Katherine. Watkins gives a really good performance and it’s a role that deep down has a lot of potential. But the script handcuffs her character with weird choices that aren’t at all convincing. Take the awkward and seemingly out of the blue fling she has with Ambrosia. Nothing about it feels authentic or necessary. Then there’s her relationship with Carl – not so much where it ends up, but the questionable path it takes to get there. None of it does her character any favors.

All of that said, McAdams still hits many of his marks and fans of offbeat low-key humor (and Owen Wilson) will find things to enjoy. Just know “Paint” is in no way close to biographical. But it certainly plays around with Bob Ross’ likeness, from his distinctly tranquil demeanor to that unmistakable perm. Those of us who fell under the incredibly gifted artist’s spell while watching “The Joy of Painting” will get a kick out of how McAdams uses his well established image.

As for those who are unfamiliar with Ross and his popularity, I’m curious to see how the movie plays for them. I doubt they’ll get much out of the many references and nods which are scattered throughout its brisk runtime. And I know the film’s mellow and restrained sense of humor won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For me, those were some of the film’s most admirable strengths. It’s some of the second half storytelling that ultimately holds it back. “Paint” is now showing in select theaters.


11 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Paint” (2023)

  1. I used to watch the Bob Ross programmes on night feeds when my son was a baby, so calming and relaxing, just what you need at 5am! I will not sully my memories of Bob by watching this! 😀

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