As everyone is ready to tell him, Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson) is a Vermont national treasure. But the man who has been the star of a PBS art show for decades is about to be challenged by his ex, Burlington PBS assistant manager Katherine (Michaela Watkins, "Werewolves Within"), and when he rejects the idea of helping flagging ratings with a second hour, a youthful competitor with a brand new take is brought in to star on “Paint.”
Laura's Review: C-
Writer/director Brit McAdams was a fan of Bob Ross’s ‘The Joy of Painting’ as a child but this skewering of his persona as a narcissistic artistic pretender is more likely to turn off fans than amuse them. McAdams transplants his pseudo Ross from Indiana to Vermont, replaces his off screen chain smoking with an on screen pipe and turns his three marriages into a string of workplace seductions while giving him a fixation on Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield as a gambit to be hung in a Vermont art museum.
McAdams bases his comedy on Nargle’s ego, the artist a man child who never got over being cheated on by his original muse Katherine, responding by gifting each new female employee of the Burlington PBS affiliate with one of his paintings before bedding her (Katherine cheated with a hunky deliveryman after her increasingly famous boyfriend paid more attention to female fans than to her.) His latest conquest, Jenna (Lucy Freyer), proves a washout after dinner at his favored Cheesepot Depot where the young vegetarian eats veal slathered in cheese to please him only to spend the rest of the evening retching. Are you laughing yet?
The film’s other conflict involves Nargle’s competition, Ambrosia Long (Ciara Renée, Hawkgirl in TV's 'Arrow' and 'The Flash'), a lesbian who begins to woo Katherine (and whose parents appear from around the corner unexpectedly every time she brings home a new conquest, another lame attempt at humor). With paintings featuring such subjects as a blood-drenched UFO hovering over a tree stump, her popularity takes off while Carl’s wanes, his low point actually winning a PBS fund drive competition with Ambrosia only to offer yet another landscape of Vermont’s most famous mountain rather than the promised portrait of high bidder Bridget (Elisabeth Henry, "Linoleum").
Sporting Ross’s signature afro, Owen Wilson trades Ross’s whispery purr for general spaciness, his ‘vantastic’ retro van complete with pull out couch a more prominent accessory than his paintbrush. Watkins, one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood, is saddled with an underwritten spurned girlfriend role, but at least figures into McAdams’ plot twist of a wrap, somewhat inspired by what happened to the real Bob Ross’s estate. The film also stars Stephen Root as station manager Tony, “Bridesmaids’” Wendi McLendon-Covey, Lusia Strus and Michael Pemberton as museum head Bradford Lenihan.
“Paint” is instantly forgettable, fitfully amusing at best. It saves its best joke for last, but unfortunately, it’s another swipe at Ross, suggesting he finds himself in the style of a better known artist. The production itself is fine, upstate NY standing in for Vermont.
Robin's Review: C-
Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson) has been the premier talent on Vermont Public TV for three decades. His speed painting show has a loyal following, but ratings are low and a more talented young artist is brought in to help, signaling the PBS television death knell for Carl and his “Paint.”
I have been a fan of the PBS series, the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, and watched the show for many years. Ross’s quiet voice is almost meditative as he creates a landscape painting in under 30 minutes. His constant talk about paint colors, stroke technique and the tools of art mesmerize as you watch him painting the 30-minute masterpiece. All the while, he encourages his viewers to join him. It is telling that Ross’s show is still running on PBS since his death in 1995.
“Paint” outwardly looks like an homage to Bob Ross with Carl sporting a huge Afro and beard and doing fast paintings on his long-running Vermont PBS TV program. The outward look is about the only thing that bears resemblance to Bob Ross, the real public broadcast art icon.
Carl has ruled the public airways, making his 30-minute paintings and garnering a small but loyal following over the years. His signature work, the Mighty Mount Madison, has been done many, many times on the show but ratings are dropping and viewership is moving away.
His boss, Tony (Stephen Root), needs to boost ratings and hires Ambrosia (Ciara Renee), a talented and promising young artist who starts bringing the viewers back. After Carl screws up a televised fund-raiser, Tony “finds” him a new job at the Burlington art museum as an art instructor – but he fails miserably at that. Of course, this being a movie act of fiction, everything turns out OK for Carl.
The reason I have a problem with “Paint” is that it is a deception posing as a “biography,” Carl is not a nice man. He is a womanizer, much to the distress of his producer and past girlfriend, Katherine (Michaela Watkins), who still harbors affection for Nargle. And, his signature work is boring and extremely repetitive. My problem is, I do not care what happens to Carl and I resent the claim that he is “a character based on Bob Ross,”
I need to watch an episode or two of the Joy of Painting just to get the bad taste of “Paint” out of my mouth.
IFC Films opens "Paint" in theaters on 4/7/2023.