Writer Brit McAdams’ feature directorial debut movie, Paint, is a quirky, slow-paced film that attempts to inject a bit of excitement into an otherwise colorless true-life scenario.
Clearly based on late PBS rock star Bob Ross, McAdams’ main character is named Carl Nargle. The ridiculousness of the name itself is likely a tool to inform readers that this is no biopic — not even close — but all the Bob Ross trademarks are there in the opening scene: denim; big, fluffy hair; a landscape painting; and the same 13 colors of paint on his average-sized brush palette.
A fictional parody of a biopic along the lines of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Owen Wilson’s portrayal of Nargle-not-Ross remains true to the latter, including the mannerisms and gentle voice viewers became well accustomed to throughout his 1983-’95 run as host of The Joy of Painting. Wilson nails all of these aspects, with an added sense of sarcasm that separates him from Ross’ kindly manner.
Two more details that set Carl Nargle apart are the place he calls home and the environment that envelops it: Burlington, Vermont, where Nargle is treated and perceived as a legitimate rock star.
He’s reached an unprecedented level of stardom as host of Paint with Carl Nargle, an instructional show where our star takes you to a special place — his famous catchphrase. This special place brings a certain sense of comfort and serenity to the citizens of Burlington, who tune in every day and watch the episodes intently.
However, to the all-women staff of the show, this message takes on an entirely different meaning. Behind the scenes, Nargle is an utter womanizer, another aspect of his personality that, though highly exaggerated, may have been borrowed from Ross’ story.
The way McAdams writes the character, helped along by Wilson’s usual unassuming approach, it’s as if Carl doesn’t realize what he’s doing to these women — like it’s something that’s happening to him rather than by his hand. He has an air of naivety, with a clear self-awareness lurking under the aloofness, which makes him an entertaining character to watch — one suitable for an actor like Wilson.
The newest addition to the Paint with Carl Nargle staff, and the next in line to fall prey to the host’s charm, is a young woman named Jenna (Lucy Freyer), who is dead set on going to that special place with Carl and isn’t shy about her desire to get there.
Everyone knows Jenna’s next up as fresh meat, immediately sparking a competition fueled by jealousy between the ladies on set. To make things more complicated, the show’s weaselly producer Tony, played by veteran character actor Stephen Root, throws more contention into the mix by secretly hiring a female artist named Ambrosia (Ciara Renée) to share the bill with Carl. Can you see the Anchorman comparisons coming?
Ambrosia brings a more avant-garde approach to the show, painting a scenic picture of a UFO spewing blood down onto a rock in the middle of a forest as her debut. Her progressive approach also translates to her lifestyle and sexuality, as it quickly becomes clear that Ambrosia is competing for more than Carl’s host job.
One woman in particular that catches Ambrosia’s eye, Katherine (Michaela Watkins), just so happens to be Carls’ ex and the love of his life. As can be expected, all of this makes for quite the competitive atmosphere at the station.
Much like Anchorman, the humor in this gendered rivalry is mostly quirky, maybe even more so in Paint, with a scene late in the film that’s more reminiscent of Leslie Nielsen in his late-’80s Naked Gun series, a franchise that relied just as much on physical gags as witty quips and wordplay.
A lot about the movie Paint feels and looks like it’s set in the early ’80s, from the soundtrack to the wardrobe, with only two instances that give away that it is in fact taking place in 2023 — one involving a comment about a cellphone and another passing comment about an Uber.
Carl’s clueless response to that reference is just one example of the many ways that McAdams portrays the character as stuck in the past. For years, Carl has dreamed of being recognized as a real artist and seeing his paintings hang in the local museum. But instead of taking the initiative and physically putting it in front of someone, he waits to be appreciated for his true talent, enjoying the perks of his more shallow stardom while time passes.
Time will tell if he’s able reach his own special place.
Become a Nerve Member: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.