My Kid Could Paint That

"Very Good"

My Kid Could Paint That Review


There's little better that a film can have going for it than a cute child, and four-year-old Marla Olmstead -- the putative star of Amir Bar-Lev's studious documentary My Kid Could Paint That -- has cuteness in spades, with a big, toothy grin and a world-embracing attitude. She's a disarming presence, wandering about at the feet of all the film's adults, who stand around jawing about art, the price of art, what constitutes art in general, and Marla's art in specific, while the girl herself seems almost ignored, the goofy smile occasionally cutting through the chatter while the remarks of her and her little brother go mostly unnoticed by anybody but Bar-Lev and his camera.

About the only thing that's better for a film to have than a cute child is a villain, and while the villain here is somewhat amorphous, it's no more hiss-worthy an adversary for Marla and her picture-perfect family. Mom is a dental hygienist, dad works the night-shift at the local Frito-Lay factory, her little brother does what little brothers do, while Marla happens to make big, splashy abstract paintings that have sold in a local gallery to buyers from around the world for thousands of dollars. This should be a dream come true: a child prodigy, innocence and talent rewarded, lots of money for her college fund, everybody's happy. Only the father, Mark, appears to have stars in his eyes. Both he and the gallery owner, friend Anthony Brunelli, are painters themselves, guys with obvious talent (Mark's work, glimpsed briefly, seems colorful and lively, while Brunelli does painstaking, expertly rendered photorealist canvases that can take him up to nine months each), and in Marla they seem to have found their ticket to fame. It's that glare of recognition, the TV shows that keep calling, the constant buzz of fame, and the attendant unavoidable controversy, which serves as the villain here more than any particular person.

Marla's story made for such perfect television that it wasn't long after her talent had been written up in the New York Times that producers came calling to see the child wonder. Brunelli's gallery was making money hand over fist, Mark was all chatterbox excitement about the family being invited on talk shows and to openings in Manhattan, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were piling up in Marla's college fund. But Bar-Lev -- who was documenting this whole rush to fame as it unfolded -- can't help but show notes of trouble. Marla's mother, Laura, continually voices reservations over throwing her daughter into this media circus, and Marla herself seems blissfully unaware of what's going on; which is what makes the inevitable turn to controversy so hard to bear.

Bar-Lev's camera is there, capturing with uncomfortable clarity the pain of the parents as they watch Charlie Rose's 60 Minutes episode on Marla, which turns into a damning expose. After comparing a painting Marla did under the eye of a camera installed by the show with her previous work, the show determined in essence that she was not the real artist, and suspicion immediately turned on the father (an aside from Marla caught by the filmmaker shows that one of the paintings was even done by her younger brother). From there on, it's an ugly slide downhill, with the once-feted parents now being damned by the glare of media suspicion, suffering the modern equivalent of tarring and feathering; namely the receipt of mass amounts of anonymous emails spilling over with unwarranted hatred and derision. In the midst of all this, the filmmaker remains acutely aware (as he relates in narration, and as mentioned to him by a local reporter who knows the family), that although sympathetic to the family's case, he's ultimately just another cog, albeit small, in the circus.

Serving as a refreshing island of sanity is New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, who appears as the art-world's figurehead, blithely noting amidst the occasionally hysterical uproar, that on some level, "all art is a lie." It's on this note of thoughtful indecision upon which Bar-Lev concludes his story, and it's a good departure point. Much of the talk about My Kid Could Paint That has focused on the did-he or didn't-he argument (did Mark touch up and finish Marla's work?) and how the film leaves you without a clear answer. This is somewhat misplaced, casting the film as some sort of intellectual mystery, when in fact it's more of a rumination on a couple of subjects, first the initially tempting but ultimately vicious and cannibalistic nature of the modern media spotlight. But secondly, somewhat in the vein of last year's less successful Who Gets to Call It Art?, the film is also concerned with questions of what constitutes art itself, giving itself a title said by many nonplussed observers looking at a Jackson Pollock drip painting.

Maybe the paintings (many of which are quite extraordinarily complex and beautiful) are indeed collaborations of a sort between Mark and Marla; should it matter? Some of the people flocking to Brunelli's gallery and forking out $25,000 for a canvas would emphatically say yes. Marla, busy smearing paint over a canvas on the kitchen floor, couldn't care less.

My kid did paint that.



My Kid Could Paint That

Facts and Figures

Run time: 82 mins

In Theaters: Friday 14th December 2007

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 77 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Amir Bar-Lev

Producer: Amir Bar-Lev, , Stephen Dunn, Andrew Ruhemann

Starring: Amir Bar-Lev as Amir Bar-Lev

Also starring:

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