(director/writer: Brit McAdams; cinematographer: Patrick Cady; editor: Sofi Marshall; music: Lyle Workman; cast: Owen Wilson (Carl Nargle), Elizabeth Henry (Bridget), Paul Kosopod (Bridget’s best friend), Sonia Darmei Lopes (Mary), Ryan Czerwonk (Young Bar Regular), Michaela Watkins (Katherine), Ciara Renée (Ambrosia), Stephen Root (Tony), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Wendy), Lucy Freyer (Jenna), Lusia Strus (Beverly), Michael Pemberton (Dr. Bradford Lenihan); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Sam Maydew/Peter Brant; IFC Films; 2023)

“Failed indie dramedy, a bland satire on the late Bob Ross.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit McAdams (“Triviatown”) is director-writer of this failed indie dramedy, a bland satire on the late Bob Ross (he died in 1995, after hosting The Joy of Painting for 11 years, since 1979). Ross was the host on PBS of an art show where he paints landscapes while acting mellow and telling stories.

Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson), with the same mannerisms, Western shirts and curly hair as Ross, does a riff on the iconic host. Carl hosts a live one-man instructional painting show for the last 20 years that’s broadcast live out of the PBS station in Burlington, Vermont. He’s the Man at the station until an admirer of his, the younger painter Ambrosia Long (Ciara Renee), joins the PBS show and replaces him in popularity, as his show follows Carl’s on the air and appeals to a younger generation.

The studio boss (Stephen Root) asks Carl, because the station is in financial trouble, to help out, but Carl refuses and so begins his career demise.

Carl is undergoing a midlife crisis and is no longer with his ex-girlfriend (
Michaela Watkins), the station manager at PBS, who he had an affair with and abandoned but still maintains a civil relationship with her. The pic has every staffer falling for Carl and sleeping with him, after he manipulates them into having sex with him.

When it becomes evident the comedy is built around the parody by Owen of Ross, the one-joke film dies and ceases to be amusing, witty or worth watching such a selfish and uncaring fictional person impersonate a real-life legendary figure by doing a head-scratching hatchet job on him that was never right or funny. Thoughthe film rails against cancel culture it
has nothing to say about it that’s relevant, as it desperately paints itself into a blurry corner of nostalgia. 

Though the casting of Owen Wilson seems perfect, it nevertheless didn’t work. Owen acts laid-back as he does in all his films, but is not convincing as a Ross wannabe–offering only a rather dejected version of him.