‘Paint’: Give Owen Wilson’s tedious take on Bob Ross the brush-off

Seeing his narcissistic artist interact with thinly drawn characters can be like watching Alizarin Crimson dry.

SHARE ‘Paint’: Give Owen Wilson’s tedious take on Bob Ross the brush-off

Fading artist Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson) gives lessons on a Vermont PBS station in “Paint.”

IFC Films

The gently satirical and occasionally amusing but at times nearly somnambulant “Paint” is not about the late and legendary landscape painter Bob Ross, but every review of “Paint” will almost certainly name-check Ross. Because writer-director Brit McAdams is clearly doing a send-up of Ross, and Owen Wilson is most certainly channeling Ross, from the world-class perm to the low-key speech patterns to the repetitive, relatively simplistic and weirdly soothing style of art.

To what end, though? Wilson’s Carl Nargle (there’s a name for ya) is narcissistic, petulant, misogynistic and duplicitous and yet still not very interesting, despite Wilson’s earnest, offbeat performance. It doesn’t help matters that while Carl is the manipulating villain in most of his relationships, the women around him are thinly drawn, inconsistent characters who comport themselves as if they’re in an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

It’s also more of a distraction than a clever conceit that while “Paint” often has the look and feel of a film set in the 1990s, it’s apparently set in the present day, given the references to Uber and “Dancing With the Stars.” This is a film that never seems to pick a lane and stick with it.



IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Brit McAdams. Rated PG-13 (for sexual/suggestive material). Running time: 96 minutes. Now showing in theaters.

When we meet Carl, he’s just past the zenith of his career but still enjoying his reign as the host of “Paint with Carl Nargle,” the most popular show on the Burlington, Vermont, PBS station. Every afternoon, Carl takes us on a journey as he crafts yet another painting prominently featuring Mount Mansfield, and there’s probably a metaphor in the name of that mountain, don’t ya think?

Once the live broadcast is completed, the station’s female staffers fawn over Carl as if he’s Leo on the set of “Titanic,” as they compete to see who will be spending quality time with him later that evening. Smoking his pipe, proudly sporting his Western-themed wardrobe and tooling around town in a horrendous orange van with a fold-out sofa in the cabin and a license plate reading “PAINTR,” Carl is a complete tool. He’s also something of a fraud, because for all his bravado, he’s deeply insecure because his work has never been featured in the Burlington Museum of Arts.

As Carl’s ratings begin to slip, station manager Tony (the perfectly cast Stephen Root) brings in a bold and fresh new talent named Ambrosia (Ciara Renée), who shocks the community with her painting of UFOs in the forest and also shakes things up at the station, entering into a possible romance with Carl’s ex, the producer Katherine (Michaela Watkins). Carl eventually winds up taking a teaching job at the local university in a plot detour that goes nowhere fast, while Ambrosia proves to be nearly as manipulative and opportunistic as Carl.

We find it hard to get invested in the fates of any of these characters, despite the talented cast and the undeniably interesting look of the film. It’s not a good thing when the regular viewers of the painting shows, including the daytime drinkers at a local tavern and the residents of a senior living community, who are essentially glorified extras, come across as more authentic and potentially more interesting than the actual main players.

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