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January 8, 2008

‘My Kid Could Paint That’ lacks imagination

(Starring Anthony Brunelli, Marla Olmstead, Stuart Simpson and Michael Kimmelman. Directed by Amir Bar-Lev. Rated PG-13; 1:22. LEO Report Card: C+)The documentary “My Kid Could Paint That,” which premiered at the Village 8 on Friday, is long on ideas and short on execution.The film’s subject suffers from the exact opposite problem: 4-year-old modernist painter Marla Olmstead’s works show a great command of the craft of creating and combining colors, but they demonstrate no intended meaning. Are her works art? Marla came to fame a few years ago when a reporter in her hometown of Binghamton, N.Y., wrote an article about the pint-sized painter. The piece was picked up by the national media, making her an instant celebrity. Her paintings, combining Rothko’s great blocks of colors and Pollock’s energetic explosions, fascinated collectors. Weeks later, Marla’s paintings were going for five figures and she had $200,000 in her “college fund.” It didn’t take long for people to question the authenticity of the paintings. Surely her father, himself an amateur painter, contributed? An exposé on “60 Minutes” came to that conclusion. Suddenly, fame gave way to infamy.Along for the ride is director Amir Bar-Lev, who unfortunately lacks the filmmaking experience to make the movie come alive. He presents us a collection of talking heads and shaky, handheld interactions with Marla: It’s the stuff of student films. Even with his limited budget, there was more room for imagination. If modern art has taught us anything, it’s that cheap, even amateurish, art need not be dull.Still, like Marla’s paintings, the film poses interesting questions. The nature of Marla’s paintings is left undefined. Does it take technical skill to make an abstract painting? Or is it really just dumb luck and snobbery that makes Pollock more respected than a realist painter? Does the painter have to intend for the painting to mean something, or can the audience make the meaning?  More interesting, perhaps, is the role of money in Marla’s story. Patrons paid large sums for her works assuming that her story will catch on and the value will inflate. The hype surrounding those early sales created the media attention that made those paintings worth even more.  Marla’s story reminds me of the stock market the last few years. Was there a “Marla Bubble”? And is it possible that “My Kid Could Paint That” is really about market capitalism, hype and greed, not art? —Alan Abbott ‘Walk Hard’ proves comedy can be brilliant(Starring John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig and Tim Meadows. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated R; 1:36. LEO Report Card: B-)In his career to date, John C. Reilly has rarely been cast for his comedic abilities. That’s a shame, because Reilly can be devastatingly funny. In “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” he sends up every pop music convention of the past 40 years. The entire film amounts to one long inside joke, and that joke’s constituent parts are often brilliant.“Walk Hard” springs from the combined talents of writer-producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) and director Jake Kasdan (“The TV Set”). It skillfully skewers every cinematic musical from Elvis to “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Ray” and (obviously) “Walk the Line,” barely concealing a kind of vicious glee. The casting of Reilly keeps the proceedings from ever veering into meanness.As Dewey Cox’s career (and the film) progresses, it becomes clear that there is no genre he cannot debase. He starts out from Alabama, emulating the King, and rolls through folk, psychedelia, country and a passel of other styles. His Dylan period is particularly hilarious. All of this puts tremendous pressure on the quality and authenticity of the music. Fortunately, producer Apatow has not been stingy. To write and record the songs that make up Cox’s repertoire, songwriters like Van Dyke Parks, Mike Viola, Marshall Crenshaw and Dan Bern were enlisted. Parks, of course, is justifiably revered for his work on some of the Beach Boys’ best music. Crenshaw was once a genuine, chart-busting pop star. Viola is the indie rocker plucked from obscurity to compose “That Thing You Do” for Tom Hanks’ eponymous directorial debut. Bern is a prolific neofolk-rock singer-songwriter with a penchant for scatological absurdity. The songs in “Walk Hard” are robustly funny. The vehicle for Reilly and his June Carter-like partner (Jenna Fischer), “Let’s Duet” (say it phonetically to get the joke), is wickedly sardonic, as is the title song. In the end, the music is perhaps more satisfying than the conventional frat-boy slapstick that fills much of the movie. —Paul Kopasz