In his autobiography, Salvador Dalí wrote about a bet he won by producing a modernist painting without touching the canvas; the punchline involved a gun filled with paint, the kind of seditious jest the old rebel always enjoyed at the expense of aesthetes. The conundrum at the core of My Kid Could Paint That might have pleased Dalí, if only because it shines a similar light on the pretensions and deceptions of art assessment. Amir Bar-Lev’s doc may take its title from the ultimate philistine lament, but its beef is as much with the people who fork over millions for abstract smears as it is with the folks who cloud the line one interviewee draws between “prodigy” and “freak” when it comes to its controversial four-year-old subject. When the paintings of Binghamton toddler Marla Olmstead first caught the eye of art dealers in 2004, she was promptly heralded as a Romper Room Pollock, a staggering talent who, while “blissfully unaware” of her achievement, catapulted herself and her family into the international art scene. Despite apprehension from Marla’s mother Laura and journalist Elizabeth Cohen about the ramifications of such whirlwind success on a preschooler’s future, the film’s first half zips along weightlessly, content to cutely frame the cherubic painter munching on a cookie at her gallery opening. It is when a 60 Minutes exposé sows doubts about the legitimacy of Marla’s virtuosity (including the role her father Mark, himself an amateur artist, played in the making of the paintings) that the film’s breezy polish darkens into a layered inquiry. Critical of the fickleness of art patrons yet uncertain of the candor of Marla’s parents, director Bar-Lev necessarily inserts himself into his own film and ditches his original redemptive arc in favor of an interrogative camera, admirably leaving more questions than answers. This insistent search for the truth—about art, success, family—is what keeps the film from turning into a twee human-interest column blown to main-feature length.
- Sony Pictures Classics
- 82 min
- Amir Bar-Lev
- Marla Olmstead, Mark Olmstead, Laura Olmstead, Anthony Brunelli, Elizabeth Cohen, Michael Kimmelman, Amir Bar-Lev
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