Review: Owen Wilson’s ‘Paint’ is a bizarre Bob Ross spoof with disappointing brush strokes

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Paint'

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” returns for its final season Friday on Amazon Prime Video, while “Barry” is back for its last season Sunday night on HBO, but what if you need something else to watch on Saturday afternoon?

It’s time to break down Owen Wilson’s quirky new Bob Ross parody “Paint,” in movie theaters nationwide.

Let me say at the top: I grew up a massive fan of Bob Ross, who died when I was 11 years old. I watched “The Joy of Painting” constantly on PBS in the ’90s, admiring his beautiful brush strokes, knife-edged details and “happy little” comments as he chose colors between “Cad Yellow” and “Van Dyke Brown.” In fact, my grandfather learned to paint on an easel using Ross’ official kit, so when my Pap Pap died, I lovingly hung his paintings on my walls.

Suffice to say, I was very intrigued when I heard IFC Films was distributing Owen Wilson’s new film “Paint,” which I had hoped would be an actual biopic of Ross, either chronicling his entire life’s journey or at least highlighting his legacy like Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in Marielle Heller’s “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019).

Imagine my disappointment as I sat down to watch “Paint,” only to discover that it isn’t about Ross at all but rather the fictional (and unlikable) Carl Nargle, a painter at the local PBS affiliate in Burlington, Vermont. Driving around womanizing in his custom van, Nargle thinks that he’s on top of the world, until a younger, more talented artist named Ambrosia (Ciara Renée) steals both his TV show and his ex-lover Katherine (Michaela Watkins).

I’m still rooting hard for Wilson, who has shined in mainstream comedies (“Meet the Parents” and “Wedding Crashers”) and awards contenders (“The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Midnight in Paris”). I hope that he keeps taking risks in choosing unique roles like “Paint,” sporting Ross’ signature afro and flowery shirts but adding a wooden pipe, which TV producer Tony (Stephen Root of “Barry”) is forced to digitally blur for anti-tobacco activists.

Written and directed by Brit McAdams (“Tosh.0”), the script made the 2010 Blacklist of the best unproduced screenplays — more than most films can say. I suppose there are interesting themes of painting from your heart versus what you think museums want, as Carl dreams of the (fictional) Burlington Museum of Art showcasing his Mount Mansfield landscapes (the University of Vermont does have such a painting by Charles Louis Heyde).

The character study might work on paper, but it never truly comes to life as a movie. While John C. Reilly’s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007) spoofed the Oscar-winning Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” (2005), “Paint” lacks a recent biopic to roast unless you count the Netflix documentary “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed” (2021). As a result, the film feels borderline mean-spirited, as if it’s making fun of him.

I won’t go as far as to say, “It’s like watching paint dry.” Such a pun is low-hanging fruit for critics to ding a movie that does have some redeeming qualities and a few amusing moments that made me laugh. Overall, though, I found it to be a lifeless canvas, disappointing my expectations for an artist who gifted my family many personal memories. See it if you want, but my advice is to stay home and stream the rom-com “Rye Lane” on Hulu instead.

2 stars

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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