Owen Wilson Goes Bob Ross in a Comedy Without Jokes

Apr 5, 2023

It’s not hard coming up with a dumb, silly idea for a comedy—the difficulty is in following through on that concept for 90+ minutes. Steve Carell playing a 40-year-old virgin is an idea that only takes you so far, but the execution is what makes The 40-Year-Old Virgin special. Without the jokes and pathos, Superbad is just a film about three high school kids trying to get booze for a party. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as man-children had the script to back it up with Step Brothers. A funny idea on paper is all well and good, but turning it into a feature-length film is a whole different ballgame.

Paint, written and directed by Brit McAdams, is a comedy centered around a single image: Owen Wilson dressed up as a Bob Ross-type painter—complete with afro—that could understandably make anyone who sees this picture want to see this film. Scroll back up and look at Owen Wilson. What a goof! What a strange idea that surely can only lead to great comedy! But the concept of Paint begins and ends with this image of Wilson all Ross’ed up, in a film that seemingly forgets that a comedy actually needs comedy.
Wilson plays Carl Nargle, the host of the most popular painting program on the Vermont Public Broadcasting service. For decades, Nargle has built an audience who loves his quiet demeanor as he paints landscape after landscape—often featuring the exact same mountain in all of them. In terms of Vermont public television, Carl Nargle is a star. That is, until the network hires another painter, Ambrosia (Ciara Renée), in the hour following Carl’s show. Ambrosia’s a bit more daring, painting more than one painting in an hour (a shock to the public broadcasting painting program world), and her work is certainly more adventurous than Carl’s, painting things like a UFO dumping gallons of blood into the woods.

Image via IFC

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Ambrosia’s hiring was spearheaded by Katherine (Michaela Watkins), who works for the station and is Carl’s former lover. After their split, Carl romantically worked his way through the rest of the station’s staff. While she resented him for this, Carl also hasn’t found another muse like Katherine. As Ambrosia helps raise the station’s ratings, Carl’s star begins to fall, and there may not be room enough for two public broadcasting painters in Burlington, Vermont.

Thematically, Paint sort of presents itself like it might be an almost Anchorman-esque film with a blatantly sexual Bob Ross, but absolutely nothing is done with that concept. It’s almost as if McAdams seems to think simply looking at Carl and his giant hair and outdated Western shirts—a visual gag that has already run its course before the film begins—will be enough to keep this film afloat. Most of the attempts at humor here are simply pointing out the inherent silliness of Carl, and his outdated ways. He’s still confused by cell phones, he doesn’t know what Uber is, and he’s impressed by the number of pages his newest romantic conquest can fax. Carl himself isn’t particularly funny—which is nothing against Wilson—and the screenplay doesn’t do much other than reiterate his antiquated attitude and style.

But it’s baffling how rarely McAdams’ script is even going for humor. It’s not that Paint is attempting bad jokes that don’t land, although there are a handful of those, there just aren’t many jokes. Instead, we’re left watching this obsolete artist attempting to figure out his professional and love lives in a fairly straightforward way. Despite ending on an absolutely killer joke that comes out of nowhere considering what came before it, Paint isn’t a poor attempt at comedy simply because it doesn’t even feel like it’s making an attempt.

Image via IFC Films

McAdams’ screenplay also doesn’t give the audience much reason to care for the stories being told or the characters at the center of the film. Carl is immediately presented as a somewhat womanizing artist who has allowed success to get to his head, so there’s no real reason for us to be interested in his journey. Similarly, every other character’s stories largely center around Carl, which makes it hard to appreciate what the film is doing with them on their own. For example, Paint sets up a potentially interesting relationship between Katherine and Ambrosia, and then discards it without any real rhyme or reason, except that the shadow of Carl looms large over both of these characters. We also learn that the Vermont Public Broadcasting network is struggling to stay afloat, and while this does at least seem like an attempt to boost the stakes of this film, it’s hard to ever care about this when the film doesn’t feel that interested in this concept either.

This is all a shame, considering Paint does have a solid cast, full of great comedic actors who are largely wasted. Watkins is always great, and she’s charming here, but she isn’t given hardly anything to do. The same goes for Wendi McLendon-Covey and Lusia Strus, who play one-note characters that never warrant their addition. A perfect example of this type of disregard of the comedic talent Paint has comes in Ryan Gaul, who plays a delivery truck driver that doesn’t have a single line, and is used as little more than a plot device. Sarah Baker is also similarly wasted as little more than a glorified extra. The tools are there to make Paint a comedy with potential, but McAdams doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Image via IFC FIlms

Which brings us to Wilson, who is doing his best as Carl, but without the script to back him up, he’s left floundering in the same mannerisms and barely-there jokes. In a way, Paint almost feels like it’s trying to be like the films of Jared Hess (more at the level of Gentlemen Broncos, and not Napoleon Dynamite, or even Nacho Libre), and at times, does remind of the goofy 2000s-era of Wilson in films like Zoolander or Starsky & Hutch. And while it would be great to see Wilson in that mode again, Paint is not a good representation of Wilson’s comedic gifts.

Paint is an odd attempt to make a comedy while also doing the least amount to make that comedy actually funny. While the poster of an afro’ed Owen Wilson might get butts in seats, it’s not going to keep them from getting up and leaving. McAdams’ has all the potential and personnel to make Paint into something more than just a funny image stretched into a 90-minute movie. Instead, McAdams takes his canvas and ruins it with bad Paint.

Rating: D+

Paint comes to theaters on April 7.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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