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Owen Wilson-Led Homage to Bob Ross Falls Flat

The Pitch: In PaintOwen Wilson stars as Carl Nargle, a successful painter with a Vermont Public Access TV show simply titled Paint. Modeled generally after the late (and great) painter and TV host Bob Ross, there are lots of similarities between the two when it comes to characterization and artistic style: Both have iconic ’70s perms, both speak in a warm, gentle whisper, and both have an affinity for painting idyllic, inspired scenes of the natural world.

Though Nargle has become a beloved staple of Vermont television over the years, his status is threatened by the arrival of a new painter, Ambrosia (Ciara Renée), who seeks to paint outside the box and allow artwork from her imagination to inspire the next generation of painters. Nargle, meanwhile, finds himself stuck in the past — he spends much of his time roaming through Burlington in his colorful, decked-out sprinter van (complete with a custom sofa bed), attempting to paint the perfect portrait of Vermont’s Mount Mansfield, and wishing he could reunite with his once-true love, Katherine (Michaela Watkins).

As Ambrosia grows in popularity, both audiences and the TV station’s staff — including Katherine and the station’s manager, Tony (Stephen Root) — begin to focus their appreciation on her, rather than the unanimously-loved Nargle. This conflict becomes the catalyst for Nargle’s existential crisis, and he spends much of the film contemplating his purpose as an artist and as a person.

As a now middle-aged Nargle attempts to find his identity, Paint seeks to illuminate the big questions around art in general. What does it mean to create from your “soul”? How do the boxes we create within represent our fears and beliefs? By seeking artistic perfection and cultural legacy, are we holding ourselves back? And, perhaps primarily, what would it look like if Bob Ross went through a mid-life crisis? Though ambitious and tonally specific, Paint doesn’t provide many answers to these queries; but as Bob Ross would say, “There are no mistakes. Just happy accidents.”

Let’s Go to a Special Place: Paint often succeeds the most in its depiction of modern-day Vermont, and the way a character like Nargle would serve as a cultural king to the region. There’s an overwhelming quaintness and wholesome quality to the settings and characters in Paint; even the TV studio, with its generic office ennui and small-town staff, has a comforting, lived-in atmosphere.

He may move from girlfriend to girlfriend (specifically the station’s female staff members), but Nargle is characterized as a sweet, generally inoffensive guy. It’s very easy to root for not just him, but several of the film’s principal characters — Ambrosia included. It’s this wholesome vibe that writer and director Brit McAdams successfully uses to show that the primary conflict in the film is not necessarily spawned from an external source, but Nargle’s internal one.

Paint (IFC Films)

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