‘Paint’ doesn’t inspire

“Paint” (2023) – “Let’s decide.  Maybe there’s a happy tree, an evergreen tree, and he lives right there.” – Bob Ross

“That tree was probably too tall.  Brace yourself.  You are going to get some calls about that.” – Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson)

Carl Nargle regularly paints nature scenes on a canvas for a local PBS Burlington, Vt. station.  With his tall, brown curly locks and calm, soothing demeanor, the similarities are obvious between this on-screen fictional character and the late Bob Ross in “Paint”, a comedy from writer/director Brit McAdams.   

“Yea, (my character) is inspired by Bob Ross.  I think (for) Carl Nargle, his personal life is in a little bit more disarray than Bob Ross’ (life), but for sure, (Carl) was kind of inspired by (Bob).” – Owen Wilson on Jimmy Kimmel Live, March 2023

As our movie opens, Carl has it made in the shade, under the sometimes-sunny Vermont skies.  (For the record, the picture was filmed in Upstate New York.)

Most days, he films his show, “Paint with Carl Nargle”, where our artistic hero dabs and coats images of evergreen trees, streams, rocks, blue skies, and Mount Mansfield, a regular staple in Carl’s pieces.

Carl is successful (although not financially) and embraced by the Burlington community or those who regularly watch PBS.  However, the station manager, Tony (Stephen Root), realizes that his 50-something TV star is too comfortable in the role.  Worse yet, the station is losing money, so he hires a young, energetic artist named Ambrosia (Ciara Renee) to help shake things up.

Ambrosia (Ciara Renee)

Instead of welcoming this new talent, Carl feels threatened.  Ambrosia brings a fresh new approach and branches out (pardon the pun) from Carl’s Mount Mansfield landscapes, like her resourceful and striking splattering of a spaceship laying waste to a tree, an image with just a touch of irony.

So, Mr. Nargle is forced to face some realities, like keeping his TV gig and taking inventory of his life.  His leisurely personality doesn’t create enough momentum to take quick action, so Carl fumbles with change. 

Someone needs to hand the man “Who Moved My Cheese?”

Rather than take an energetic, slapstick approach, the film rides subdued and restrained tones and focuses on character introspection and visual cues for laughs.  McAdams seems to channel his inner Wes Anderson as the film leans into an oddball station worker, some eccentric shots of the local municipality, a muddled, failed romance, and Carl’s unique hairstyle. 

Unfortunately, barely any on-screen happenings are funny, which is a shame, although I do recall chuckling a couple of times.  As the minutes tick, the movie audience realizes that Carl is a sad sack and a one-trick pony with his art.  He can’t create other representations outside Mount Mansfield and its accompanying nature costars.

We pity Carl, and since he doesn’t have the immediate wherewithal or spirited inertia to improve his current standing, most of the 96-minute runtime follows his aimless journey.  To be fair, part of the movie’s allure is to root for Carl to break out of his long-standing routines, but to get there, the film buries us with casual, humdrum conversations over TV station budgets, cubical politics, and a random date at a fondue restaurant. 

The movie’s best moments are between Carl and his ex-girlfriend, Katherine (Michaela Watkins).  Still, a lot of their story is told through occasional flashbacks that the film drops in without warning. 

We’re rooting for this couple, I suppose. 

Well, we’re rooting for Katherine to be happy…with or without Carl.

Carl is also stuck in the 70s.  He dons collared shirts with small paisley designs, carries a pipe, and drives an orange van that resembles the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine.  The film could easily and actively mock his 70s persona with modern-day sensibilities and conveniences, done with great effectiveness in Betty Thomas’ “The Brady Bunch Movie” (1995), but here, the differences are usually implied and not called out for comedic effect. 

Rather than model Wes Anderson, a Peter and Bobby Farrelly slant would probably work better for “Paint” and Carl, as the brothers’ chaotic, knockabout physical comedy helps lighten and brighten the moods that surround their down-on-their-luck leads.  Just relive “Dumb and Dumber” (1994), “Kingpin” (1996), “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), and “Stuck on You” (2003) as prime examples. 

Look, Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) getting pedicures with an electric sander, and Mary (Cameron Diaz) finding a new hair product might not be your cup of tea, but you won’t be bored watching those old Farrelly brothers’ movies.

I can’t say the same for “Paint”, no matter how cool Carl Nargle’s hair is.

1.5 out of 4 stars

Written and directed by:  Brit McAdams

Starring:  Owen Wilson, Michaela Watkins, Ciara Renee, and Stephen Root

Runtime:  96 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Image credits: IFC Films

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