Review

Amber Tamblyn wants to 'Paint It Black' in stylish directorial debut

Although “Paint It Black,” actress Amber Tamblyn’s dark, evocative adaptation of the 2006 novel by Janet Fitch (“White Oleander”), is often a case of style over substance, the first-time director’s feverish vision helps put a unique spin on a familiar story.

Alia Shawkat, best known for her many comedic supporting roles (“Arrested Development,” “The Intervention”), earns her dramatic bona fides as Josie, an Echo Park bohemian sent into an emotional tailspin after the suicide of her artist boyfriend, Michael (Rhys Wakefield), seen here in effective flashbacks.

Things get worse as Michael’s boozy, officious mother, Meredith (Janet McTeer), a famed concert pianist, starts taking out her own grief on Josie in an escalating series of unhinged episodes. Michael’s father--and Meredith’s ex-husband--Cal (an underused Alfred Molina) initially lends Josie a supportive shoulder, but he can only do so much.

A weird game of cat and mouse ensues between Josie and Meredith but eventually leads to a détente that makes both little sense and, given the film’s woozy narrative, perfect sense.

Tamblyn, who also co-scripted with Ed Dougherty, blends a kind of hipster-goth vibe with near-camp melodrama, switching the book’s 1980s setting to a kind of timeless version of contemporary L.A. There’s also a distinct “Sunset Boulevard” feel here thanks to McTeer’s grand, wild-eyed turn (it’s not the two-time Oscar nominee’s finest hour), along with her character’s gloomy mansion, its ominous swimming pool and devoted live-in servant (Nancy Kwan).

An intriguing audio-visual sense, deft editing and Shawkat’s committed performance elevate this strangely watchable film.

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‘Paint It Black’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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