Amber Tamblyn’s first film as a director is an ambitious piece.
Her debutPaint It Black is a film defined by the grief and paranoia. The movie tries to communicate intense emotions through its stars and style. While the grief is palpable through the film’s unique directing, it makes for an odd viewing experience. The performances are a must-watch, but Paint It Black is a jumbled narrative that’s hard to follow. Keep in mind, however, that Paint It Black is only as jumbled as it wants to be.
Paint It Black is a dark film, following the death of young artist Michael (Rhys Wakefield). The film centers around Michael’s girlfriend Josie (Alia Shawkat) and mother Meredith (Janet McTeer). Josie and Meredith had never met before Michael’s death, and his death pulls them together. Not in a pleasant way, mind you – when they meet, the two become instant enemies. What follows is a game of psychological chess, as each woman fights for the right to Michael’s memory.
Tamblyn’s filmmaking technique is tailor-made for the film. The editing and soundtrack are meant to evoke the paranoia that protagonist Josie feels. Each scene feels high-pressure and spooky as if a monster will jump out at any moment. On one hand, this style fits the subject matter incredibly well. However, as a viewing experience, it’s a bit hard to track. The peculiar, erratic style is interesting, but not always pleasant.
What makes the film not only pleasant but powerful, are the stars. The way Shawkat and McTeer bounce off each other makes for very compelling conflict. Both have intensely sorrowful performances, and passion palpable through the screen.With each scene, the pressure put on Josie by Meredith becomes all the more intense. Shawkat’s building paranoia, stemming from her encounters with the intimidating McTeer, make for intense drama. The performances of the stars shine through an otherwise confusing film.
Again, the movie’s pace and style is hyper-specific to the story. While some will find it off-putting, others will likely find it exhilarating. Each scene is mapped out through the editing to be as spooked as Josie is. The soundtrack for the film is phenomenal, helping to carry the same energy the talent shares. There’s not much to say about the supporting cast, who only stand in for a scene or two. It’s a bit troubling in Michael’s case, as his suicide is the inciting incident. It would’ve been nice to get more insight into his exact mental state. However, letting Shawkat and McTeer carry the film is far from a bad thing.
PAINT IT BLACK is a hard to follow film, when it comes to the narrative. Particularly by the end of the film, when Josie finally breaks free. While the action may be confusing, there’s no doubt as to the power of the performers.
PAINT IT BLACK COMES OUT IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY, MAY 19TH.
We screened the film at the New York premiere at MoMA. It was presented by SVEDKA Vodka and a party followed at FISHBOWL at Dream Midtown.