Owen Wilson’s Bob Ross Inspired Comedy Is More Amusing Than Laugh-Out-Loud Funny

Apr 5, 2023

What if genial TV painter Bob Ross was actually a serial philanderer with an obsessive need to be accepted by the art community? This seems, on paper, like an interesting concept for a film. Considering that Ross has enjoyed a revitalization during the pandemic, perhaps now is the time to interrogate his life and legacy. However, despite sporting a pretty wonderful wig and reenacting his mannerisms, Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson) is not Ross, and Brit McAdams’ feature debut “Paint” is not a biopic of everyone’s favorite former PBS employee. 
READ MORE: ‘Paint’ Trailer: Owen Wilson Is A TV Painter In Brit McAdams’ Quirky New Comedy
Instead, “Paint” is an odd hybrid, taking the look and mannerisms of Ross and placing them onto a compulsive character who, as someone tells him, “uses his brush to seduce and destroy.” If that quote sounds dark, the film doesn’t exactly match its intensity. Ostensibly, it’s about Nargle and a rivalry that he creates when his Vermont PBS station hires a younger, more experimental painter, Ambrosia (Ciara Renée), to replace him and hopefully boost ratings. But the film spirals out in several other directions, accounting for Nargle’s penchant for sleeping with his co-workers and his obsession with crafting the perfect picture of Mount Mansfield in a bid to get a painting into the coveted Burlington Museum of Art. 
Needless to say, “Paint” is packed with plot, but most of it feels superfluous. With its cutaways to Nargle’s previous seductions and PBS’s budget crisis, it has the rhythm of a sitcom and an aesthetic that can probably be best described as Wes Anderson-Lite. Wilson’s committed performance is at the center of it, playing Nargle as someone whose notoriety has essentially paralyzed him. When he stages a PBS telethon as a bidding war between his and Ambrosia’s paintings, he literally cannot create anything other than a portrait of Mansfield. 
The film mirrors Nargle’s singular focus, content to spin out the idea of Bob Ross as a flawed and failed artist to feature length. It’s not a bad idea, by any means, but it also wears out its welcome despite a similar commitment from Michaela Watkins, playing Nargle’s producer and former lover Katherine. While she is burdened with some ridiculous sub-plots, including a botched relationship with Ambrosia, she nevertheless sells Katherine as a weary public employee who is just looking for a little excitement in her life. The same goes for Lucy Freyer as Nargle’s current girlfriend Jenna, who desperately wants his attention but can’t understand his obsessions, and Stephen Root, the PBS station manager, who struggles to find financing. 
Yet, the actors are saddled with a tone that ping-pongs between broad comedy and indie realism, something that McAdams doesn’t seem able to reign in. We whiplash from Nargle’s deep-seated fear of failure to broad jokes about Vermont’s hippie-esque culture. When the jokes land, however, they really do work. This is a film that is very much ingrained with the rhymes of the state, featuring several quips about Camel’s Hump or UVM. Even its lax pacing seems to mirror the Green Mountain State.
McAdams; script ended up on the Black List over a decade ago, and one can see why. The sheer novelty of placing a Ross-like figure in an existential crisis probably reads quite well. Further, Wilson is giving his most mannered performance in a while, a reminder of the range that the actor actually has when he’s not on auto-pilot. But “Paint” is a truly strange film that is never the full-on comedy that one might expect, but it also never commits to the despair that seems to be lingering right under the surface. Despite a truly unhinged final twist that almost makes the entire film worth it, “Paint” is more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny. [C]

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