Art Attack

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click to enlarge CHILD'S PLAY: A beaming Marla Olmstead stands proudly in front of one of her paintings in My Kid Could Paint That. - Sony Picture Classics
Sony Picture Classics
CHILD'S PLAY: A beaming Marla Olmstead stands proudly in front of one of her paintings in My Kid Could Paint That.

Director Amir Bar-Lev's documentary about the rise and fall of a child star seems to mutate right before our eyes, raising a slew of questions in the process about the nature of art, investigative journalism and pop's seemingly insatiable appetite for devouring itself.

The film's ostensive subject is little Marla Olmstead, who became an overnight media sensation at age 4 (when her abstract paintings began selling for upwards of $20,000), and then was just as quickly discarded when a 60 Minutes piece suggested her art was either being coached or created by an overzealous parent. All of this media-intensive activity occurs as Bar-Lev's documentary is in the process of being shot, and Marla's mother and father begin looking at the film-in-progress as a way to vindicate their daughter and themselves. Unfortunately, the Olmsteads soon discover, to their considerable horror and embarrassment, that Bar-Lev has his own doubts about where the truth in this infinitely complicated story lies.

My Kid Could Paint That becomes richer and more ambiguous as it unfolds, as the focus shifts from the Olmstead family to the troubled filmmaker himself and then to the mixed messages stirred up by professionals such as New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman. Almost inevitably, the movie raises many more questions that it's prepared to answer, but there's a perversely satisfying symmetry in that. We're ultimately encouraged to read between the film's lines in a way that invites comparisons to how meaning becomes attached to all nonfigurative art, whether it's by Jackson Pollack, a monkey or a 4-year-old girl.

My Kid Could Paint That (PG-13) Stars Mark, Laura and Marla Olmstead, Elizabeth Cohen, Anthony Brunelli and Michael Kimmelman. Opens Nov. 9 at local theaters. 3.5 stars

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