Paint Synopsis: Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson), Vermont’s top-rated public access television painter, is convinced he has it all: a signature perm, custom van, and fans hanging on his every word. However, the arrival of young, creatively-inspired artist Ambrosia (Ciara Renée) begins to steal the pedigree Carl has established.
Self-obsessed painter Carl Nargle basks in the modest fame and fortune of his public-access TV legacy when the arrival of a new artist threatens his existence in the absurdist comedy Paint.
Some aspects of writer/director Brit McAdams’ narrative debut boast an innate appeal (McAdams is an established filmmaker in the comedy scene, directing Katt Williams comedy specials and episodes of Tosh. O). Paint centers itself in the quaint world of a folksy Vermont town filled with its fair share of offbeat characters. Within this obscure yet endearing world, McAdams elicits his best results when focusing on the material’s inherent zaniness.
Carl Nargle is a perfect embodiment of this. Molded from the zen-like aura of Bob Ross, the character is a fascinating buffoon to follow. He disguises his narcissism under peaceful mantras and a chill facade while fixating solely on creating unremarkable landscape portraits for his lackadaisical TV viewers. McAdams has a blast skewering his image in humorous ways, keeping a straight face as Carl’s eccentricities speak in their own amusingly quirky voice.
The bizarre caricature allows star Owen Wilson to offer one of his best comedic performances in years. Wilson is a master of commodifying cooler-than-cool energy, utilizing his distinct skill set to articulate the character’s humorous mannerisms and overwhelming aloofness. It is a joy not only seeing Wilson step back into his comedy wheelhouse, but also witnessing the actor getting the rare chance to play a despicable figure onscreen. Supporting work from comedy veterans, such as Michela Watkins, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ciara Renée as Carl’s new upstart rival, also color the screen with expressive performances.
Paint’s quirks are a joy when the film focuses on its farce of celebrity culture. McAdams accumulates comedic mileage by depicting how fandom’s disillusionment creates a cult of personality that never lives up to its actual namesake. The film’s first half is adept at portraying this concept, with McAdams dreaming up some ingenious skits that accentuate the filmmaker’s ambitions.
Somewhere along the way, though, Paint loses its edge. While there are some promising thematic ruminations at first glance, McAdams abandons these ideas in favor of clean and oppressively generic narrative devices. To see the film get oddly sentimental about Carl and his gradual descent into obscurity awkwardly clashes with what the first half achieved so well. The movie ultimately concludes with little to say about its premise and Carl himself, landing in a decidedly beige middle ground that does not formulate a thoughtful perspective.
Paint is humorous without ever being laugh-out-loud hysterical. After a strong start out the gate, McAdams’s screenplay runs out of steam, eventually driving in circles around its amusing yet tedious one-joke premise. For every joke that lands effectively, there is another that swings and misses badly from its overly offbeat sensibility.
Paint conjures a portrait of mixed-bag moments. Some areas of its canvas are brimming with promise, but the whole experience struggles to paint a satisfying and cohesive picture.
Paint opens in theaters on April 7.
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