Credit: IFC Films
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Horizon Line

Paint — Brit Mcadams

April 7, 2023

In case you couldn’t tell from the big goofy afro, pleasant demeanor, and paintbrush, the character of Carl Nargle in Brit Mcadams’ Paint, played by Owen Wilson, is basically a stand-in for the legendary painter, TV host, and meme, Bob Ross. The film, well, paints this guy as a good-intentioned but generally sort of oblivious semi-narcissist with a history of womanizing, but it ultimately doesn’t really settle on anything particularly interesting to add to that fairly generic foundation. Mostly, the film is left to exist as a collection of quirks and quaint humor that never accumulates into anything that is either overtly satirical or emotionally insightful. It’s just sort of… there.

Even though just about everyone in the town of Burlington, Vermont seems to really like Carl, his TV show, “Paint with Carl Nargle,” is flagging in the ratings. Rather than risk imminent loss of public funding, Carl’s good buddy and local PBS honcho, Tony (Stephen Root), decides to add a new painting show to air right after Carl’s, and subsequently hires the young, pretty, less traditional artist Ambrosia (Ciara Renee) to host. Of course, Ambrosia’s show is immediately popular and rapidly eclipses both Carl’s show and his ego.

To make matters worse, Carl’s history with women has become quite the source of gossip, especially with regards to his treatment of the show’s producers, Wendy and Katherine (Wendy McLendon-Covey and Michaela Watkins, respectively), the latter of whom is also Carl’s ex-girlfriend (for whom he still carries a little bit of a torch, naturally). Paint seems to want to say something about misogyny, at least within the specific spheres of media and/or art, but the female characters that populate Mcadams’ film are frustratingly just as obnoxious as Carl, and so it’s tough for that thread to be effectively tugged on, despite the clear intention burned into the narrative. What’s more, Paint’s humor is so dry, so sincere, and so frequently the child of non sequitur that the whole thing feels less like a meaningful attempt at much of anything at all and more like a Napoleon Dynamite riff or a Wes Anderson-angling dramedy, just centering Bob Ross.

For what it’s worth, Wilson pretty much saves the show; you really couldn’t do much better in the casting department than calling upon his natural aw-shucks “Wow”-ness for one of the most pleasant and soothing forces in TV history. Unfortunately, since Paint doesn’t have much of anything to say about Carl or his predicament (beyond it being sort of casually shrugged off in the climax), viewers are left wishing someone had just made a straightforward Ross biopic starring Wilson instead. The tiptoeing and circumventing on which Paint relies simply do not work

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 14.