It’s not that the ending of “Painter” is a drab, unemotional and unexciting anti-climax. It’s that too much of what comes before this art world thriller’s finale is flat, rote and conventional to the point of predictable.
Cory Wexler Grant’s debut feature earns good intentions points for casting character actress Betsy Randle as its anti-heroic heroine, an arts world “type” — the “patron” who gets in entirely too deep.
The “Boy Meets World” and “Girl Meets World” veteran narrates in a kind of “Sunset Boulevard/Bright Lights, Big City” remove, a charmless all-knowing cynic observing the lives she’s entwined, the “world” (art) she sees as false, the manipulation she figures is her due.
But as wealthy Angelino Joanne sinks her hooks into mild-mannered mediocrity Aldis Brown (Eric Ladin), the patronizing Joanne lets us know that making this painter her “creation” and a star won’t be enough, succeed or fail.
She is a reliable narrator in that she shows her cards in voice over, an unreliable one because we can see this colorless Midwesterner isn’t worthy of championing.
After all, she herself has told us that “genius,” long-reserved for that “once in a generation” talent,” has “lost all of its power.” Can she, as a collector, using it to describe Aldis make it generally accepted as true? Can she be trusted to recognize “that convergence of talent and timing” that makes a star?
And that brings up more questions. As we see the breathless “gallery show opening” types utter their “the color, the DEPTH” inanities, we wonder if we’re being set up for a satire of the art world’s fickle fakery, the poseurs passed off as “genius” because “I SAID so?” Or is something less surprising and more sinister in play?
“Painter” begins with a “30 under 30” show where Aldis might have been lost in the mix, another lowball sale, another chance to make his mark lost. Joanne, however, browbeats the gallery owner (Susan Anton) into selling her his painting at four times its asking price.
She takes an interest, narrates her notion that he will be her “creation.” But his friends are warning him. “She’s your Sam Wagstaff.” She’s a collector, patron and champion with something “else” in mind.
Aldis, being a cornfed Nebraskan, doesn’t know who they’re talking about. He lets her buy his work and gets talked into moving his garage-rental studio into her mansion.
“You need somebody to believe in your, push you.”
She can do that. And when he’s not looking, she’s confronting his sometime girlfriend (Cinthya Carmona), warning her away, that Aldis doesn’t need “frivolous diversions like you.” Joanne listens to his complaints about a much more successful rival (Casey Deidrick) a little too intently.
And as her intended results start to pay off with attention and a one-man show, she throws her weight around.
Randle may put across privilege and authority as she purrs through the narration, but she never gets across the menace the role needs.
The script gives Ladin few opportunities to expand on his character’s general under-reaction to what should seem like an obvious threat or infuriating annoyance. The picture and her performance rob us of that.
The time-lapse sequences of a painter at work add authority to the proceedings. But as the art world this is sort of sending up recedes into the background and Grant tries to throw us off the scent by being less predictable, interest fades.
Narrowing the focus to Joanne, her mania and her “secrets” makes it more boring.
There’s promise here. But that higher end of expectations would have been for this to be a solid genre thriller, not a dawdling, dull drip-painting of a tale.
“Painter” deadens the climax so badly that you almost welcome the anti-climax that follows.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sex, alcohol abuse, profanity
Cast: Betsy Randle, Eric Ladin, Casey Deidrick, Cinthya Carmona, Omri Rose and Susan Anton.
Credits: Written and directed by Cory Wexler Grant. An 1844 release.
Running time: 1:40