Parents' Guide to

Paint It Black

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Artsy, nonlinear tale with suicide, drinking, sex.

Movie NR 2016 97 minutes
Paint It Black Poster Image

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This movie is a self-conscious, jumbled attempt at emotional truth by actress and first-time director Amber Tamblyn. The source material of Paint It Black is the 2006 novel of the same name by Janet Fitch (White Oleander), and it would be easy to blame the movie's disorder and pretentiousness on the writer as she co-authored the screenplay. But many directorial choices are made here that give a viewer the sense that "art" was the filmmakers' goal over comprehensibility or relevance. It's hard to care about any of these characters, as their journeys are defined by snippets of odd daydreams and nightmares mixed with reality, deliberately set to run in randomly shuffled chronologies, a strategy that discourages audience engagement.

Alia Shawkat plays Josie as a mesmerizing presence, in her defiantly tartish, second-hand wardrobe, wearing a soulful look and demonstrating an almost distressing ability to focus on and communicate inner pain. We never believe or understand why she's attracted to Michael's mother, nor why she willingly wanders into that spider's web. The script doesn't back her up with the explanatory depth that her performance deserves. The talented Janet McTeer as the overprivileged, manic-depressive mother seems to be stuck in a horror movie, complete with candelabras and a haunted mansion. There isn't much for her to do here but emote wildly, especially in the scenes in which the filmmakers allow her actual voice to be heard. In more human moments, the decision was made to leave out the natural sound, distancing the audience from any possibility of finding that part of her character either believable or sympathetic. The comparison between the coarse and raw Josie and the refined and neurotic pianist mother is starkly drawn by Tamblyn's good-effort style of direction, but not enough to carry an entire movie. The movie never goes anywhere, never creates a drive suggesting characters progress from one emotional state or goal to the next. Josie discovers a hidden room full of baby toys and photos but nothing she finds takes her or us to a next step of illumination or understanding. Over and over, the viewer can't help but ask: To what end was this movie made?

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