Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary on alleged painting prodigy Marla Olmstead raises all the appropriate questions about art and artists, but one can’t help focusing on the one question for which Bar-Lev seems to provide a definitive answer on: whether four-year-old Marla actually created the paintings that her parents sold for thousands of dollars.
The film straightforwardly follows the Olmsteads for the first half of the movie through Marla’s gallery debut, at which fans gladly buy every one of her works. However, the movie shifts after a fateful episode of 60 Minutes II in which Charlie Rose posits that Marla could not have painted the much-talked-about pieces. At that point, My Kid Could Paint That transforms into a different film. Debate about the nature of abstract art and whether a four-year-old’s paint doodles could be considered masterpieces gives way to Bar-Lev’s own investigation into the truth. No longer a removed observer, Bar-Lev becomes a character himself, moving into the frame more and more as he chooses between protecting the family that let him into their home, or exposing them as potential frauds.
Ultimately, Bar-Lev sides with Marla’s critics, a fact that may leave a bad taste in the mouths of viewers taken with the likable Olmstead family. After all, why should those previously unaware of Marla want to invest the time to watch a documentary that ultimately makes nice people look like jerks? For those with an interest in art or the news media that creates and destroys stories-of-the-moment, however, My Kid Could Paint That offers fodder for lively post-screening discussions.