A review of “My Kid Could Paint That” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

 

 

Four year-old Marla Olmstead is a child prodigy, or is she? That’s the question behind this contemplative doc that calls into the question the veracity of a pint-sized Picasso.

          A normal kid from Binghamton, New York Marla nonetheless has a gift. She can paint, and her artwork has rocketed from obscurity to international renown courtesy of a full-blown media circus. As her parents stand proudly by her side, little Marla’s private dealer sells over $300,000 of her art to clients desperate to own a piece of history.

          It all comes crashing down just shy of Marla’s fifth birthday when “60 Minutes” airs a blistering expose suggesting that Marla’s paintings were actually created by her father, an amateur painter himself. Suddenly this “hot” artist is stone cold and Marla’s family is left to pick up the pieces.

          In an unusual move Marla’s folks turn to filmmaker Amir Bar-Levi to restore their reputation and that of their embattled but none the wiser daughter. Insisting that Marla is a genuinely gifted abstract impressionist the Olmsteads, a night-manager at the Frito-Lay company and a dental assistant, ask that Bar-Levi train his camera on Marla as she constructs her art and exists in the glare of the spotlight.

          The filmmaker’s own journalistic integrity is called into play as he’s drawn deep into the complex vortex of the Olmstead’s dilemma. The result is a disturbing piece that raises more doubts than answers. What kinds of parents allow their daughter to be exploited for financial gain? Where is the indisputable evidence that Marla can actually paint? And perhaps the oldest question in the book, what is art? Maddening and more than a little thought-provoking.