My Kid Could Paint That Reviews
Also of note is the credit given to the underrated skill and sensibility that goes into abstract art. Even people who don't "get" abstract art should still be able to discern cracks in the "Child Prodigy" authorship narrative with Bar-Lev's objective camera, especially in the side-by-side comparison views of Marla's off-screen and on-screen paintings.
Before I saw this film, I only knew that it was about a four-year-old abstract expressionist. The film explored every question that occurred to me when I thought about the concept: does abstract art qualify as art, what are the effects of artistic fame on the child artist, who are the parents, and could this be a hoax. Within the first half hour, the film explores everything, which is a credit to director Amir Bar-Lev. The questions about Marla's authenticity take on a new prominence as the film continues and spark a self-reflective journey for the filmmaker. Is he violating a family's privacy by making the film? It's a question that Bar-Lev doesn't take lightly and rightly so. The film's one weakness is that we don't know enough about Bar-Lev before his experiences with the Olmsteads, so it's late in the film before we can attach ourselves to his journey. But all of these stories are compelling, and the comments about art by New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman are particularly insightful.
For my own part, I think "art" is a big enough word to encompass abstract expressionism and "splatter painting." While I don't find the work particularly compelling, I do find people who talk about the theory behind their work more interesting than the work itself. The same is true with modern art; I don't like looking at a Warhol, but I like listening to Warhol's apologia for his work. While Marla, the child artist, seems blissfully unaware of the firestorm surrounding her work, the parents work tirelessly to protect her name. I find Mark suspicious, and though I don't think Laura is in on the hoax, I think she suspects her husband. Yes, I think it's a hoax, but the film's strength is its ability to avoid making its own conclusions.
Overall, I think when I can start thinking about the film's issues rather than how the film is made, it says that the film is good enough to transcend the typical value judgments we employ when we watch films.
As I watch more and more docs I have noticed that there are not many that can tell the story objectively. This one is the same as the director puts his struggle to try and stay objective into the film. Does he continue with the original premise of documenting a child painter or does he follow the path before him that could taint the story as a ruse?
A well done film that lets you decide for yourself in the end with the facts laid out before you.
I find an interesting conclusion made from this film: if a kid is having fun painting while interacting with a parent, what bearing does or should any input have that the parent may give the kid? If you suggest what the kid should do without taking the brush out of their hand, does that mean it's no longer the child's work? What about the adult artist who takes in criticism from other artists while still working on a piece? Are all these people also entitled to authorship or a signature? I just think this film does not make specific what PART of the parents and Marla'a behavior makes the art "not hers". I *think* it's the fact that the director suspects that the Dad Mark may do physical touch-ups to the paintings with his own brush after hsi daughter finishes, but this point isn't made clear.
This film also proves that art sales are all about marketing and media attention, especially for modern art, just as the gallery owner and seller for Marla's art will attest/protest.
This is a nice "debunking of the prodigy" film, and it works that angle on many levels, none of which I think the child herself will find to be insulting in future reflection.
Regardless of the movie's ambiguities, in five to ten years, any questions left in the air about Marla's talent will be solved by what she will do in her future art career.
The documentary itself is well filmed and well composed, but the real reason I liked it so much was that I just wanted to keep looking at these paintings, because they are on par with some of the best abstract art I've seen.
As an artist, it both inspires me and makes me feel like a failure, because this 4 year old is a way better painter than I am.