My Kid Could Paint That
Amir Bar-Lev’s charged and challenging documentary acquaints us with Marla Olmstead, an upstate New York abstract expressionist who had the great and terrible fortune of commanding five figures for her paintings before even reaching her fifth birthday. Yes, there’s a whiff of fraudulence in the story, and Bar-Lev follows his nose through many increasingly emotional reversals of sympathy and comprehension. By necessity, his film tests received ideas about what modernism hath wrought within the fine-arts establishment, about the celebritization of prodigious talent, and about parental responsibility for creative encouragement. Eventually, as one gallery owner rightly, chillingly observes, “Everybody’s trying to shape the story into something that they want it to be.” That includes the filmmaker, who’s acutely aware of an unsettling paradox: His film becomes richer and wiser only by propagating an exploitation of innocence. It’s as if the movie had no other choice but to leave us wondering whether we’ve just witnessed the ruination of a childhood.