Writer and Director Brit McAdam’s new film Paint (2023) is clearly inspired by a certain fluffy-haired painter who specialized in happy little trees. Owen Wilson plays Carl Nargle, the host of a popular PBS show called “Paint with Carl Nargle,” whose popularity is waning. The network is in need of money in order to keep operating, and new talent is brought on to follow up Carl’s show. The many relationships Carl has built over his time at the network start to change as Ambrosia, played by Ciara Renée, introduces some new art styles, and changes the personalities in the office.
Wilson is great in this role and brings much of his natural charm to it. The movie opens with an episode of the show where he is painting a “beautiful, lush blackberry bush” named Marcy. McAdam employs a fun introduction of Carl Nargle by cutting between him painting – then him “in” the painting – with his fans watching the show in various locations. Soon, we meet the major players in the studio, as they watch him wrap up the episode. The adoration for Carl is evident, and it’s hard not to feel it too. In these moments, we learn a lot about who watches, how they watch, and why they watch right away. The tone is established in this sequence, and – much like the fans freaking for another little tree sprung to life by Nagle’s brush – you’re either in or out at this point.
A quirky point of the film is that it appears to exist in its own pocket of time. Much of it feels like the ‘70s, but it is very clear that it is much closer to our time. There are anachronisms all over throughout the movie, but there doesn’t appear to be a specific reason for them. The Brady Bunch Movie used this idea with great impact by pulling this family from the ‘60s into the ‘90s. It was a clear quirk and the intention behind it was used to make many jokes. Paint seems to do this with no apparent reason or motive but just to make an occasional reference. Soon after the opening, the movie flashes back to Carl and Katherine, played by Michaela Watkins, bonding in Vantastic, Carl’s van and home at times fully equipped with a sofabed. The music and style look old, but the flashback isn’t that long ago. There are references to cellphones, Dancing with the Stars, and other things that feel modern while so many of the clothes and mannerisms feel old. The world these characters inhabit is unique, but it doesn’t add up to anything.
Even though every joke doesn’t land, there is a charm that Paint has that I enjoyed just being in. It’s a warm blanket of a movie that at times feels a little itchy, but not so much that you need to kick it to the floor. The comparison to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy is there early on especially as a female painter threatens Carl’s throne of king of PBS art, but it fails to be quite as impactful as the Will Ferrell-led movie. Still, Paint is quite solid and definitely worth checking out.
Paint is in theaters on April 7.
Rating: Decent watch