COLOR is a loving look back at the pivotal summer in the life of
writer-director George Gallo, a fine arts painter in real life.
Stop me if you've heard this before...Troubled teen pesters reclusive master to teach him the classical art form because school ain't doing it for him. Teen shows master his work. Master grunts at the work. Teen persists. And so on.
Sound like FINDING FORRESTER, with Sean Connery?
In LOCAL COLOR we have Armin Mueller-Stahl. For those of you not familiar with this actor, he usually plays the old German/Russian with an edge who takes over the screen when he walks into the frame. He graces LOCAL COLOR with that same presence. The guy is pushing somewhere around 80 years old and has worked his whole life, so it is very likely you've seen him in something--and noticed him.
In 1974, in the suburb of Port Chester, New York, the teenage aspiring artist John Talia, Jr. (Trevor Morgan) finds out that his favorite Russian painter Nicoli Seroff (Armin Mueller-Stahl) lives nearby. Driven by the adolescent notion that a renowned painting master would have anything to do with him, John pops over to Seroff's place to makes friends, and finds a bitter, alcoholic former painter.
When Nicoli travels to the Pennsylvania countryside for the summer, he invites John to go with him. John thinks he's going to learn how to paint. Nicoli needs a handyman. John's homophobic dad (Ray Liotta) smirks, "So, 'teaching someone to paint' is what they're calling it these days." I hope you're sitting down: John defies his dad and goes anyway.
Once in the countryside, we see the art of painting come alive as we are shown the hues and tones of the surroundings, and a glimpse into the methods that make a great work. Other sides of Nicoli's personality come to bear--primarily his sense of humor. It provides a nice contrast to the drunken rages. In an unexpected appearance, Ron Perlman (HELLBOY) is the pretentious art dealer adding to the dramatic landscape. He's not playing HELLBOY, and he is perfect in this part.
Carla (Samantha Mathis), the expected hottie neighbor, creates a focus for the kid's summer crush. Thankfully, this is handled masterfully and with sensitivity. The Carla character could have been a throwaway but Mathis added welcome depth, preventing the most significant female role in the movie from being nothing more than a place to hang a plot point. She synchronizes the recent loss of her son with Nicoli's loss of his wife to form a two-person community of grieving. Nicoli's drunken rages flow from the depths of his grief, which does nothing to relieve the tension in the master/student dynamic. However, this information gives us a deeper look and perhaps some understanding into how all these people fit together.
The most distracting thing in LOCAL COLOR is the language. Okay, we know the old Russian is pissed off--fine. But his adjectives and adverbs shouldn't be limited to one word.
LOCAL COLOR is not a perfect movie. But it has an old story most people don't mind hearing, accented with a love of its topic: painting. It is this love that threads the characters and story together into a very enjoyable summer in the Pennsylvania countryside. Those who know painting will find depth and poignancy in the way the subject is treated. Those outside of that world will be brought into it with awe and appreciation. And although we can see the story's end from a mile off, our affection for these characters allows us to grant Mr. Gallo some forgiveness.