“Today, everybody’s a fuc*ing genius,” states Joanne (Betsy Randle), the obsessive protagonist of Cory Wexler Grant’s ambitious debut, Painter. The psychological thriller casts a deeply cynical look at the contemporary art world. It’s an easy target that’s been cinematically dissected many times, with the recent Nocturnal Animals and Velvet Buzzsaw coming to mind, both oddly starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Yet Grant manages to explore the subject from some enticing angles. The resulting painting may be a bit too busy to qualify as genius but contains brushstrokes so vivid it’s certainly worth scrutinizing.
“A negative review of Aldis’ first major gallery showing…spurs Joanne to act.”
Aldis (Eric Ladin) is an aspiring artist who attends artsy, neon-tinged parties, accompanied by friends who wear stockings on their heads (“Do you want to touch it?” one inquires). He meets Joanne (Betsy Randle), a wealthy art collector who seems very taken by Aldis’ sole painting at a gallery showing. Although the painting has been sold, Joanne offers to pay four times more for it. “I would love to see your studio,” she tells a smitten Aldis before offering him a section of her mansion to use as a workspace. “You can protest, but why?” she exclaims. “To be affable, to be polite? To hell with ‘polite’!”
Things progress rapidly. Joanne spies on Aldis and scares off his girlfriend by pretending to be his mom (“He doesn’t have time for frivolous diversions!”). Before he knows it, Aldis is sleeping at the aging woman’s house, and with her, for weeks. When he reveals his deepest inhibitions to Joanne – wishing death upon his high-school-bully-turned-uber-successful-artist, Ryan West (Casey Deidrick) – their relationship grows to a whole new level. A negative review of Aldis’s first major gallery showing, in which he’s compared to the infinitely superior and more popular Ryan, spurs Joanne to act. Aldis must now confront his most grandiose – not to mention macabre – art project yet.
"…examines how in the art world, art and commerce, sex and love, indignation and genuine inspiration morph, mesh, and intertwine."