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10 ways the new Owen Wilson movie 'Paint' pokes fun at Vermont

Actor Owen Wilson wears a red afro, white cowboy shirt while standing next to an easel and painting.
Amazon Studios
In the new film, Owen Wilson plays a character inspired by Bob Ross.

In the new movie “Paint,” Owen Wilson plays Carl Nargle, a soft-spoken, frizzy-haired host of a painting show on public television. The character is inspired by Bob Ross, but the movie is no biopic. For one, the real-life Ross filmed his much-beloved show in Muncie, Indiana, while Nargle is based out of the fictional Burlington Public Broadcasting Center in Vermont.

The film pokes repeated fun at Vermont’s stereotypical style, culture and bucolic landscape. But the movie’s writer and director Brit McAdams insists all the jokes come with the best of intentions. “I love Vermont,” McAdams told Vermont Edition. “It will always hold a special place in my heart.”

(McAdams' interview withVermont Editionaired April 12 and can be also found on the Vermont Edition podcast,)

McAdams grew up skiing at Killington and still has the resort’s main landline number memorized (he recited it during our interview). He also has a sister who lives in Rutland; she helped him with local research while the movie was in development.

If you see the film, keep your eyes and ears open for these Vermont nods and jokes.

1. The Burlington Museum of Art

Despite his television success, Nargle is motivated by an unfulfilled dream: to have one of his paintings accepted into the Burlington Museum of Art’s collection. He becomes so fixated on this goal that he starts obsessively painting Mount Mansfield on his show, after the museum’s director mentions that he’s searching for a picture of Vermont’s highest peak to add to the collection. This plot point obviously isn’t based in fact: There’s no such thing as the Burlington Museum of Art. However, the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont does have a painting of Mount Mansfield by the 19th-century artist Charles Louis Heyde, so… there’s that.

2. The Cheesepot Depot

Nargle’s favorite date night spot is a local fondue restaurant called the Cheesepot Depot. “It’s pronounced “cheese pot dee pot,” McAdams clarifies. He says the inspiration for the name comes from the Vermont habit of Anglicizing some French Canadian words and names.

More fromBrave Little State: 'Cow' Or 'Ke-ow'? The Past, Present And Future Of The Vermont Accent

3. Sweaters on sweaters on sweaters

Nothing says Vermont like a frumpy sweater with a moose on it — at least according to the costume department of “Paint.” Wilson’s Art Garfunkel-esque wig dominates a lot of the conversation around this film, but whoever picked out the sweaters deserves an Oscar for costume design — or at least their own Etsy shop. 

More fromBrave Little State: ‘Stick Season’ is a viral hit. What else has put Vt. on the cultural map?

Lucy Freyer, Owen Wilson, Stephen Root and Michaela Watkins all play public media employees in "Paint."
Courtesy of IFC Films
Lucy Freyer, Owen Wilson, Stephen Root and Michaela Watkins all play public media employees in "Paint."

4. Budget cuts at Burlington Public Broadcasting

While the public media station in the film is fictional, a certain plot point involving a slashed budget hits a little close to home for us public media types (we’re just gonna leave this link right here). Owen Wilson told NPR Weekend that his dad worked at the PBS station in Dallas when Wilson was growing up. “I think that really helped bring him into Nargle’s world,” McAdams says.

5. The Burlington Bonnet

During the film, a local reporter from the Burlington Bonnet interviews Nargle for their publication's list of local treasures (Nargle had tied with “snow.”). The name of this fictional newspaper makes it sound like a cutesy, small-town publication rather than a real news source, of which Vermont has plenty. But then again, who are we to point out the perceived shortcomings of a local news outlet’s name?

6. Vermont vanity plates

Nargle drives around town in an old orange camper van with “PAINTR” vanity plates, while his rival has vanity plates that read “PAINTER.” McAdams says his sister in Rutland helped him track down the real owners of the vanity plates to get their blessing.

Owen Wilson as Carl Nargle in his camper van.
Courtesy of IFC films.
Owen Wilson as Carl Nargle in his camper van.

7. The gift of weed

Nargle’s longtime barber gifts him some cannabis, which leads to a hazy night for our star and a fiery plot turn. While it’s not totally clear what year the film takes place, we can assume the barber got his weed legally. Medical cannabis became legal in Vermont in 2004, and recreational cannabis dispensaries opened to the public in October 2022.

More fromVermont Edition: Vermont's retail cannabis market has been open for months. How's it going?

8. Painting at UVM

At one point in the film Nargle leaves public television and takes up a post teaching painting at the University of Vermont. He bombs hard enough at the gig that all his students stop coming to class. While UVM emerges from this plot point unscathed, perhaps there’s a critique embedded in there somewhere about the plight of adjunct professors, or Gen Z’s post-pandemic struggles with in-person learning?

9. Green Mountain Coffee coupons

Nargle hands out Green Mountain Coffee coupons to his coworkers in an attempt at employee appreciation. They are not impressed.

10. Saratoga Springs, Vermont

What better way to make a dig at Vermont than to film a movie about it in New York? Though McAdams says he’s “fully invested in Vermont,” the movie was filmed in Saratoga Springs.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
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