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'Paint' is not without its charm

Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

In the new comedy Paint, Owen Wilson plays an artist who paints for an hour each day on a public television show in Vermont. His name is Carl Nargle, and I admit I laughed at least a little bit every time someone said his name.

Wilson’s character is clearly inspired by Bob Ross, with his curly permed hair, the way he dabs paint onto the canvas, and his quiet voice. Nargle is also just as clearly not actually Bob Ross—he’s a relatively mediocre painter and he’s deeply self-absorbed, assuming he can save the financially struggling TV station by signing a few more tote bags. When the station brings in another, younger, more exciting painter to fill the hour after Carl’s show, this threatens Carl and his place as one of Vermont’s homegrown treasures.

Nargle kind of floats through life, seemingly disconnected from most of the people around him, and the movie reflects this in its tone—not necessarily to its benefit. A lot of it feels like loose sketches that may or may not come from anywhere or go anywhere else. The other characters in the movie, even the important ones, don’t really behave in enough of a consistent way for us to see them as real characters, and I wish we could say that’s done to give us an idea of how little Nargle himself recognizes other people as people, but that’s a pretty enormous stretch. There is, ultimately, a story thread that runs through the film that ties some parts of it together and takes a stab at real bittersweet emotion, and it’s not entirely unsuccessful, either. But a whole lot of the movie seems like it was made without a clear idea of where it was going, and only later achieved some kind of form in the editing room.

And still—like Carl Nargle, Paint is not without its charm. Wilson is a delight, gently oblivious to the world outside of himself, and the absurdist touches make the humor just surprising and silly enough. You’ll find plenty of happy trees here, you’ll just need to brush away all the debris around them.

Paint opens in theaters and at the Tallgrass Film Center April 7th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.