THE STORY – Carl Nargle, a local treasure with a soothing whisper of a voice, hosts his own painting show on Vermont public television. His art has attracted the attention of many women over the years, especially those who work at the station. However, when a new painter gets hired to revitalize the channel, Carl’s own fears regarding his talents as an artist are brought to the forefront.
THE CAST – Owen Wilson, Ciara Renée, Michaela Watkins, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Lucy Freyer, Lusia Strus & Stephen Root
THE TEAM – Brit McAdams (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 96 Minutes
When you think of painter Bob Ross, you probably envision his luscious curly hair, the sweet stories he tells, and the happy clouds floating around in his paintings. “The Joy of Painting” host enchanted audiences in the 1980s and 1990s with his instructional painting program, uttering phrases such as, “Let’s add some happy little trees,” as he created beautiful landscape paintings. Even if our work didn’t look as great as his, he encouraged us to keep trying and gave us hope to improve with each attempt.
While Ross evokes all these happy, nostalgic feelings, “Paint,” which heavily draws inspiration from the famed artist, goes into the darker side of a Vermont public television painter. Director and writer Brit McAdams takes everything we may associate with Ross and flips it upside down with counterpart Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson), who, conveniently enough, also dons a perm and charming quips but is quite the womanizer off-screen. This comedy shines with its performances, especially another fun and quirky turn from Wilson. But as a whole, it doesn’t seem to know what point it wants to make as it tells a story of a complicated figure.
Nargle, much like Ross, can easily captivate audiences with the stroke of his brush, and viewers at home eagerly await his coveted timeslot to hear about the bushes he includes in each mountainous masterpiece. He’s a fun guy to listen to with his easy-going and relaxed tone, so it’s no wonder why he’s the hottest thing on public television in Vermont. Once the cameras go off, however, we see a different side of him. The women at the station swoon over him, desperate to fulfill his every need, especially young colleague Jenna (Lucy Freyer), who is his latest love interest. One of the main producers, Katherine (Michaela Watkins), doesn’t care much for the fanfare, and we later learn they have a tumultuous romantic history.
Trouble is afoot at PBS. Head boss Tony (Stephen Root) brings on a younger painter, Ambrosia (played by a cool and equally charming Ciara Renée), to stir the paint pot a little. At first, the bad boy TV host isn’t fazed, but once the newcomer becomes the talk of the town, all that power Carl feels comes crashing down around him. The station’s budget has been slashed too – unfortunately typical for media companies – and has these two competing for their stay in many funny ways, like trying to win their coworkers’ love or raising the most funds during a telethon.
Wilson can nail comedies without a problem, and he does a charming job navigating the two sides of Carl. When we see him hosting his show, it’s hard to believe you’re not watching Ross on screen based on how well Wilson channels his mannerisms and voice. With a paintbrush and palette in his hands and a pipe in his mouth, it’s easy to get pulled in. But when the camera isn’t on him, we see a womanizer taking advantage of his power over the young women he works with and not thinking twice about how much it might hurt them. Wilson’s scenes with Watkins are among the more entertaining ones to watch, especially because she is so over his schtick. Still, he also has a great moment with Freyer when their characters go on a horrible date together.
For the most part, “Paint” is a fine light-hearted comedy with plenty of silly moments that the masses will enjoy, even if not all the jokes or bits land. But what the movie tries to say or get across gets lost along the way. It’s obvious that McAdams wants to point out Carl’s abuse of power and paint him as the bad guy, but he also writes him as a redeemable character who has made mistakes along the way. Obviously, humans are complex creatures who deserve second chances, but Carl’s narcissism, rude behavior, and pervy attitude are pretty inexcusable and shouldn’t be so easily forgiven. But here, it’s all quickly brushed over just because of his fun guy personality. He even has a redemption arc in the third act, which further leads us to scratch our heads over what kind of story or character McAdams wants to have and what we should be rooting for in the end.
Most viewers will easily be able to look past the flaws in “Paint.” Instead, they’ll see a satirical film that might make them look a little differently at the man who inspired them to pick up a paintbrush years ago. Seeing this uncanny resemblance might even make a few people uncomfortable, given just how wholesome Ross was. Hopefully, we get a true biopic on the famed painter one of these days, focusing on how he crafted his art and inspired the masses.