Paint (United States, 2023)

April 05, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Paint Poster

In an attempt to say something positive about an otherwise disappointing movie, I’ll admit that it has a pretty good soundtrack, especially if ‘70s songs are your thing. As a pure comedy, Paint doesn’t work – it has a poor laugh-to-running time ratio. As a romantic comedy, it fails – the would-be lovers evince zero chemistry. As a satire, it’s dead in the water – the parody elements are flaccid and poorly developed.

Before his untimely death in 1995 and especially during the 28 years since then, Bob Ross has become an iconic figure. Because of his unique style and meme-worthy expressions, he has developed into a larger-than-life figure and, as goes with the territory, a ripe target for lampooning. Consequently, the way Paint parodies Ross is head-scratching. Sure, Owen Wilson’s Carl Nargle is given a Ross-esque appearance (complete with the afro) and he has his “The Joy of Painting”-inspired PBS TV show, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of going for a full-throated evisceration of Ross, Paint pulls all its punches. Considering how beloved Ross is, any parody would need to be affectionate – the Deadpool 2 teaser being an example – but this satire has no bite. In fact, except for the superficial physical aspects, the lead character doesn’t substantially resemble Ross. On a number of occasions, I found myself wondering how familiar writer/director Brit McAdams is with the “The Joy of Painting” artist.

The storyline is muddled and not especially engaging. It focuses on Carl, a PBS mainstay and the most popular figure in a ratings-starved lineup, who finds his dominance challenged by a newcomer, Ambrosia Long (Ciara Renee). As audiences flock to Ambrosia’s show, Carl finds his own “old school” approach becoming marginalized. He is no longer the top dog and, as his program loses its luster, he is forced to begin moonlighting as a professor at a local university. Meanwhile, he continues to pine for “the one who got away,” station employee Katherine (Michela Watkins), who has entered into a professional and personal relationship with Ambrosia. Despite his reputation as a womanizer, it’s evident that Carl’s eye has never strayed far from Katherine.

Paint consistently struggles to find its narrative footing, opting instead to rely on the charm of its leading man and the low-hanging fruit of making fun of PBS’s various shortcomings (like pledge drives). The jokes often come across as lazy and are rarely worth more than a half-hearted chuckle. Meanwhile, Wilson seems to be subsisting on a low-energy approach to Carl. It’s difficult to decide whether Wilson is miscast, simply giving a bad performance, or victimized by a screenplay that doesn’t give him enough to work from. Most of the time, there’s a sense of caged manic energy surrounding the actor; none of that is evident here. And if the goal is for him to channel Ross, at no time does that happen. He may look the part but he doesn’t act it.

About 30 minutes into Paint, I started wondering what the point of the movie is. It comes across like a mediocre SNL skit that’s already running too long before the first half-hour has expired. Things don’t improve. Carl never emerges as anything more than a pale, poorly-resolved Bob Ross wannabe, there’s no danger of a spark igniting a fire between Carl and Katherine, and the Carl/Ambrosia rivalry never takes off. The few gags that work aren’t worth the expenditure of 90 minutes. Those in search of a more effective (albeit hard-R rated) riff on “The Joy of Painting” can find it on-line in the aforementioned Deadpool 2 teaser. There’s nothing in Paint to excite fans of the late painter and even less for those who don’t know anything about him.

Paint (United States, 2023)

Director: Brit McAdams
Cast: Owen Wilson, Ciara Renee, Michaela Watkins, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Lucy Freyer
Screenplay: Brit McAdams
Cinematography: Patrick Cady
Music: Lyle Workman
U.S. Distributor: IFC Films
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2023-04-07
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Drugs)
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1