PAINT (2023)

Greetings again from the darkness. You might wonder how a low-key painter becomes ubiquitous, evolving into the source of pop culture references in everything from “Saturday Night Live” to “Family Guy” to recent horror film SMILE. Bob Ross hosted “The Joy of Painting” on public television from 1983 until 1994. His soft-spoken manner and ability to connect with the audience while finishing a painting in 30 minutes drew in many dedicated viewers and turned him into an unlikely celebrity (as did the internet). Writer-director Brit McAdams uses Bob Ross as inspiration for his first feature film.

Though it’s certainly not a profile or biography of Ross, Owen Wilson’s portrayal of Carl Nargle is part tribute and part caricature, and it seems that McAdams wanted to go the comedy route, despite most gags and punchlines landing as softly as Carl Nagle’s signature sign-off, thanking viewers for finding that “special place.”. Whereas Ross’ whispery vocal seemed soothing, Wilson’s is kinda creepy. The comedy never really lands for a few reasons, but mostly because we don’t much care for Carl Nargle and his out-of-touch ego and misogyny … although this isn’t the fault of Wilson, who does his best with what he’s given.

Carl Nargle’s (a fictional character) painting show has been a long-time fixture on the Vermont PBS channel where he regularly creates landscapes featuring Mount Mansfield. His loyal audience ranges from the elderly at a senior citizen center to the frequenters of a local dive bar to the women drawn to Carl’s calm nature and fold-out bed in the back of his custom van. The latter group includes his ex, Katherine (a criminally underutilized Michaela Watkins), who is also the program manager, and Carl’s assistant Wendy (Wendi McLendon-Covey). His newest interest is the young intern Jenna (Lucy Freyer), who seeks to be the next to receive the gift of a painting, which Carl gives to each conquest. But times are changing for Carl. Station Manager Tony (Stephen Root) needs a ratings boost and seizes the opportunity by hiring Ambrosia (Ciara Renee) to bring in new painting blood. There is more to the competition between Carl and Ambrosia than painting and ratings and ego … it extends to Katherine, generating an entirely new dynamic.

The film has a lackluster feel to it. While some would-be intriguing topics are broached, none of them are explored to the point of creating any real interest. As for the comedy, there is no energy or sharpness. It comes across as believing many punchlines and situations are funnier than they really are. Everything is just a little off … doesn’t quite work as comedy, satire, self-discovery, or drama. To top it off, the timeline is confusing. While no cell phones are present, it never gives off a strong enough vibe for us to place the era. There is simply no joy in this painting.

Opens in theaters on April 7, 2023


One Response to PAINT (2023)

  1. I had hope for a second for this, and thank you for your review, because the hope I had for a second, was followed by an expectation of exactly what is highlighted better by you in your review. I had no words to describe why I thought this might be dissappointing, and you highlight what it was that seemed like it might be a bit off the mark with this. Thank you for your review, now when I see this, I won’t be dissappointed, and can view it for what it is.

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