Cute-as-a-button Marla Olmstead is also an immensely talented artist. Painting since the age of 2, she captured the world’s attention at age 4, drawing comparisons to Picasso and Pollock and selling $300,000 worth of her work. A night manager at a Frito-Lay plant and a periodontist’s assistant, her parents Mark and Laura were ill-equipped to deal with her sudden fame or subsequent infamy but did their best to capitalize on her talent while protecting her from media scrutiny. It seems they failed when a 60 Minutes expose suggests that Marla wasn’t the author of the paintings but that her father was. My Kid Could Paint That records the Olmstead family’s dramatic rise and fall while attempting to probe deeper questions about the legitimacy of modern art.
Very young and introverted to boot, Marla is little help in settling the issue. She’s too distracted by strangers in the house to paint on-camera and is disinterested in discussing her craft. As questions arise, Mark hinders his case by either pointedly ignoring or reacting defensively when Marla attributes one of the paintings in her show to her little brother or entreats her dad, “Your turn. Help me.” Laura’s another story—there’s no way this woman is lying. But, as the viewer begins to speculate that perhaps this was a con Mark concocted on his own, or an innocent misrepresentation taken too far, director Amir Bar-Lev fails to ask her if she’s ever had doubts about the veracity of her husband’s claims.
Caught in the same conundrum as the filmmaker himself, the audience wavers among marvel, skepticism and frustration. In the end, the conclusion of both Bar-Lev and thus the viewer is that the Olmstead’s story must be true; yet, doubt lingers.
Meanwhile, as the story shifts from fanaticism to skepticism, Bar-Lev loses sight of his original line of inquiry on the nature of modern art when he doesn’t need to. If the paintings are, in fact, great whether or not they were produced by a child, as some experts in the film claim, then, if Mark did them, shouldn’t he get some, if not equal, acclaim? Unfortunately, this question is never even posed. —
Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Marla Olmstead, Mark and Laura Olmstead, Anthony Brunelli and Stuart Simpson
Director/Producer: Amir Bar-Lev
Rating: PG-13 for language
Running time: 83 min.
Release date: October 5, 2007 NY/LA