Featuring Marla, Mark and Laura Olmstead, Anthony Brunelli,
Elizabeth Cohen. Rated PG-13.
Is Marla Olmstead a prodigy or a fraud? The four-year-old’s paintings incited a
minor frenzy in her native Binghamton, N.Y., before earning her international
attention in the pages of The New York Times and later at the Sundance Film
Festival, where Amir Bar-Lev’s captivating documentary debuted in January 2007.
Yet while Marla may have inspired My Kid Could Paint That,
hardly the film’s sole focus. What begins as the improbable tale of a child
whose colorful canvases became pricey commodities soon becomes something very
different – an unsettling portrait of a family whose quest for celebrity may
have been rooted in a lie. At first, Bar-Lev presents his film as a
contemplation of modern art and how its value is (somewhat arbitrarily)
determined, but after a 60 Minutes
report questions the authorship of Marla’s paintings, controversy ensues.
Whether or not she’s a young Picasso is beside the point, really. Marla’s story
is a sobering illustration of the way children can be exploited by adults who
should know better – journalists, filmmakers and especially their own parents.
Bonus Materials: The
commentaries by producer John Walter and Binghamton-based art dealer Anthony
Brunelli are illuminating to a point, but Bar-Lev’s newly added epilogue – in
which the director returns to upstate New York for a reunion with the Olmsteads
that never materializes – provides a fittingly bittersweet end to his story
without resolving the controversy surrounding Marla’s paintings.