Like its distraught protagonist, Amber Tamblyn’s Paint It Black is unforgiving, flawed and ferocious. The actor and poet, making her directorial debut with this adaptation of Janet Fitch’s 2006 novel, takes no prisoners in delving into the all-encompassing toll immediate loss can extort. Paint It Black isn’t a necessarily wrenching watch, but it’s viscerally effective.
Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat proves herself to be a formidable and risk-taking dramatic presence as Josie, a young woman who lives hard and parties even harder. After a reckless night out, she comes home to a call informing her that her boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) has been found in a motel, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Paralyzed by a sudden rush of grief, Josie sits immobile by the phone, and tears start running down her face as Tamblyn’s camera closes in.
The perspective doesn’t widen in the next sequence that sees Josie attempt to dance through her misery at a local punk rock club. Lit by strobe lights and drowned out by deafening noise, Josie, in extreme closeup, appears numb and defeated.
Tamblyn wisely opts to lighten the mood during a playful flashback that follows, tracing the meet-cute scenario that caused Josie to fall for Michael.
The film, however, doesn’t wallow in what was; one of Tamblyn’s boldest choices is omitting any specifics on what led Michael to take his own life. Instead, she homes her focus in on the very different ways Josie and Michael’s mother, Meredith (Janet McTeer), confront his death.