Paint stays within the lines of the Anchorman blueprint.
A “narcissist” coddled by his station — in this case Owen Wilson’s painter character Carl Nargle — gets his ego bruised when a younger woman arrives on the network threatening his stale and uninspired kingdom.
The biggest difference is Anchorman, at least the first film, leaned in harder to its comedic elements making for one of the more quotable comedies of the last two decades.
Paint is more satisfied being a quirky drama with shades of comedy making for an uneven and dull film.
It also feels like director/screenwriter Brit McAdams thinks he’s offering something fresh and revelatory about a man feeling threatened when a woman challenges “his spot.”
Nargle is the featured player at his local PBS station enrapturing the viewers with his melodic voice and captivating brushstrokes. That extends within the station as half the production crew fawns over him the moment he completes one of his paintings with snacks, hand massages and takes the painting to his van.
Wilson isn’t shy about copping Bob Ross’ style and tone complete with bushy perm. Sure, Wilson can imitate Ross easily enough, but there’s no heart in this performance more so than a sketchy reproduction. Carl is weirdly stuck in place as if he refuses to emerge from the 70s from his hairstyle, clothing, unintended dismissal of no smoking signs and complete ignorance of modern tech like Uber and cell phones.
McAdams explains Carl’s lack of career advancement, but just ignores the more obvious question why a guy won’t enjoy modern conveniences. There are some other weird time elements a play as well as no one in town seems to have access to Amazon to secure a massive flat screen TV.
Station manager Tony (Stephen Root, Office Space) asks Carl to help the station by doing a second hour. Not seeking to diminish the quality of his work, Carl turns the offer down.
Tony still needs some help though and hires another younger, faster and just as talented painter Ambrosia (Ciara Renee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow).
Predictably, Ambrosia quickly paints circles around Carl, who gets increasingly desperate to be the town’s featured attraction. Seemingly overnight, Carl’s fanfare vanishes as if everyone suddenly thought he was a talentless hack. It doesn’t ring true and just comes off like McAdams needed to send Carl to rock bottom.
Part of the problem is McAdams attempts to skewer a character he’s not fully committed to vilifying. in Anchorman, Ron Burgundy totally deserved everything that happened to him.
Carl isn’t some manipulative womanizer or boozy sleaze bag. His breakup with longtime girlfriend, assistant production manager Katherine (Michaela Watkins, Good Boys) was a silly misunderstanding. And Carl isn’t taking advantage of any other woman because he’s still holding a torch for Katherine.
McAdams wants to bash away at the “toxic frail male ego,” but he only succeeds in making Carl a sympathetic character who lacks self-esteem.
It makes the entire second act punchless since there’s no satisfaction in watching this dude get his comeuppance. Carl’s just a guy whose greatest offense was playing it too safe and McAdams just kicks him while he’s down.
McAdams seems equally confused as to what he’s doing with Katherine, putting her into a relationship with Ambrosia seemingly to “take away everything” from Carl without giving either Katherine or Ambrosia their own agency. Their characters matter only in how they affect Carl.
Despite the lackluster script, Watkins somehow makes Katherine the film’s lone bright spot.
Paint isn’t funny, entertaining or remotely interesting. It’s just there slowly killing time like watching freshly coated latex seep into the walls.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: IFC Films