In Brit McAdams’ Paint, Owen Wilson steps on screen as the fictional Carl Nargle — Vermont’s number one public access on-air talent, who wows people with a brushstroke he paints beautiful nature landscapes for audiences to be thrilled by. Yet, as the film progresses, we witness the other side of Carl. Someone who may be sweet and calming to those around him but also be out of touch with today's standards.
An easy comparison to make is that Owen Wilson is portraying the great painter Bob Ross. The big hair, soft voice, hippie mindset, and twinkle in his eye that warms your heart could make us think that we’re in store for a biopic. There is only a slight name change. Wilson’s portrayal of Carl Nargle has a presence on screen that almost makes us forget that we’re still in 2023. His wardrobe, the outlandish van he drives around in, his positive attitude, and the fact that we are supposed to be in upstate Vermont — an area that feels a little dated with no billboards or big buildings anywhere — a very quaint feel to the setting. It makes us feel transported fifty years prior. But what pulls us back into the reality of the movie and contemporary times is when the conflict arises — a brand new artist with a brand new show like his starts to stir up competition with him. The realization sets in that Carl might not be the most beloved public access artist in Vermont anymore.
Through this competition, Carl’s life begins to unravel. Ciara Renee portrays Ambrosia, the new talent that rivals Carl. The two are civil, but we all know this signifies Carl will be sent out to pasture by his boss Tony, played by Stephen Root, at some point. The notion that the entire staff on the show is predominately female has even more of a plot point in the movie when it shows the audience that Carl has had a romantic relationship with pretty much all of these women. Although he is still his same old polite self toward these ex-lovers, Carl does seem to have power over them, though in a way that can be deemed inappropriate and unwanted. Thus adding fuel to the fire of Ambrosia's show moving to the forefront of viewership at the television station.
What works well for the movie is exploring themes of a male artist reaching celebrity status in a small community and no longer being at the forefront of progress. What slightly hurts the film are the surface-level character arcs for the women in supporting roles. Ciara Renee’s performance is fun to watch as we get to know her quirks and character traits, and how she even pursues a relationship with someone at the station. However, it comes off as a little superficial. There should be more there. Michaela Watkins plays Kathrine, one of Carl’s staff members. The two once shared a deeper relationship until something came along and ruined it, which could have been explored more, but it isn’t. The performances by Watkins and Wilson feel like they could match up against one another, but it never does, not due to the performances but rather, the screen time.
Paint has been compared to a ninety-minute Saturday Night Live sketch. Although it has a few shortcomings in plot and themes, Brit McAdams has a good idea of what to do with the material and the overall aesthetic of it. If anything, Owen Wilson was made for this role.