Having only previously appeared in supporting roles in the likes of The Sister Of The Traveling Pants, The Ring, and 127 Hours, Amber Tamblyn probably wouldn't have struck you as the kind of actor that would delve into a career as a director.
But, if you had any, you'll quickly forget about your prior concerns, because Paint It Black is a serious declaration of intent from Amber Tamblyn, as she controls what could have easily been a pretentious, hokey, or even just dull story, and makes it genuinely effecting.
Paint It Black stars Alia Shawkat as Josie, who is left in the deep despairs of grief after her boyfriend Michael suddenly commits suicide. At his funeral it becomes clear that Michael's mother Meredith (Janet McTeer) holds a huge grudge against Josie, and believes that she caused the pair to drift apart. Soon the pair are embroiled in a game of cat and mouse, even though they're still both heavily grieving the loss of Michael.
Paint It Black is a disciplined and restrained film that confidently seduces and waits for its viewers to fall for its charm. While most first-time directors would overcompensate and incorporate either long passages of dialogue that are overly expositional and explain every last feeling its characters are going through, or make un-organic knee-jerk decisions to try and keep moviegoers awake, Amber Tamblyn trusts and knows that her actors are adept enough to convey what's required. It's the sort of trust that you suspect only another actor would have.
They're able to do just that, too, as Alia Shawkat continues her ascent, which has seen her excel in both Green Room and Search Party over the last 12 months, and puts in a career best performance as Josie. Alia Shawkat is matched on-screen by Janet McTeer, who portrays Josie's adversary Meredith, and she is just as beguiling. Between the duo, they make you the feel the pain and grief that they're going through, while at the same time they each have a driver and determination not to let it define and sabotage them, and to try and overcome it in any way possible. Ultimately, one is more successful than the other, while the rivalry and relationship between the pair is so taught and heavy that you feel yourself being lulled in.
But Amber Tamblyn doesn't just excel behind the camera because of the performances that she ekes out of her leading pair. She's also able to create a mysterious yet intoxicating exploration of grief, while creating a numbness that purveys the piece, which compliments the characters and their process. Paint It Black is seemingly smeared in a twilight tinge and half-light that makes each of the characters seem even more on edge and fatigued, while Amber Tamblyn makes Los Angeles creepy, haunting, and even like a graveyard for the rich and famous.
There are moments and passages where Amber Tamblyn flirts with repetition, but Paint It Black's script, which she co-wrote with Ed Dougherty and is based off of Janet Finch's 2006 novel of the same name, is able to subtly meander and swerve and keep you hooked while quietly connecting, too. All of which it accomplishes without being overly judgmental and melodramatic, something that's even more impressive considering it's her debut outing as a director.
Fingers crossed this is just the beginning for Amber Tamblyn, because Paint It Black is powerful, but not forceful, touching, but not hysterical, and a film that manages to effect and entrance in a subtle and profound manner.
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