In our age of sophistication and snark, earnestness is a character trait that provokes laughter more than anything elsethink of Kenneth in 30 Rock or Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. Local Color is a welcome exception, centering itself around John, an idealistic young artist who yearns to understand beauty and truth, and a charismatic, confident performance by Trevor Morgan makes this quest vital, not hokey.
Set in 1974, Local Color is constructed as a flashback, with a now-successful John reminiscing in voiceover about the summer when he transformed into an artist. His blue-collar parents don't understand his artistic desires, with his father (Ray Liotta) fearful that John's drawings of male nudes mean that his son is a homosexual.
When John discovers that his hero, Russian landscape painter Nicoli Seroff (Armin Mueller-Stahl), lives just nearby, he can barely contain his excitement. Without a hint of timidity, he knocks on Seroff's door and proclaims his admiration and begs the old master to teach him to paint. Nicoli puts him off at first, but a friendship slowly develops; the painter later invites John to spend the summer with him in the Pennsylvania countryside, an invitation that John accepts against his father's will.
Nicoli is a cantankerous, vodka-swilling firebrand of an old dog who wants nothing to do with modern art. He's prone to obscenity-laden lectures on the uselessness of non-representational art, the meaning of beauty, and the responsibility of the painter to the truth. He loathes the art establishment for pooh-poohing landscape art, serving up venom and vitriol for the modern art that derives from the work of artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Wassily Kandinsky. It's heady stuff, but Mueller-Stahl's ...1
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