An assured if maudlin feature debut from the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Laura and Les Landau, “Archibald the Rainbow Painter” looks at two men living in contempo L.A. whose lives have been deeply altered by their experiences as soldiers during the Vietnam War. Theatrical distribution is a long-shot for the melodrama, but pic would serve nicely as a cable or even network TV presentation and could find an audience as an alternative video choice.
Vietnam vet Archibald Wright (Dorian Harewood) is a respected house painter from inner city L.A. who lands a gig to do a once-over at a fancy Beverly Hills mansion. After he starts the job, Archibald finds himself caught up in a family catastrophe to which he can relate.
It seems that the woman who hired him, Elaine — a greedy Republican, as her teenage daughter Tory (Amie Carey) describes her — left Tory’s father J.P. (Michael McKean) while he was fighting in ‘Nam. J.P. has since turned into an alcoholic, downtown L.A. hobo.
Tory, who’s an exceptionally talented classical guitarist, has just been accepted to a prestigious music college, and has secretly continued a relationship with Dad. When Elaine discovers this, she freaks out, grounding Tory for weeks and prohibiting her from seeing J.P.
Archibald, whose masculine presence and determination defines him as a new father figure to Tory, steps in. He relates to J.P.’s post-Vietnam hardships, and when J.P. finds himself in a V.A. hospital after a particularly rough night of drinking, a series of events leads to Archibald doing all he can do to save Tory’s relationship with her dad and to save J.P.’s life.
The Landaus (Laura scripted, Les helmed, they both produced) show some talent at creating a family dynamic that includes personal vendetta and lingering life decisions that have left too much pain to be ignored.
The narrative, on the other hand, is punctuated by melodramatic moments that undermine the otherwise poignant character study.
In developing two story lines, one that focuses on the Beverly Hills family’s problems and the other focusing on Archibald’s personal life, the filmmakers have misjudged where their best material is, emphasizing the family.
Archibald is an intriguing movie character and Harewood slowly develops him in different layers and nuances that always seem real.
Vanessa Bell Calloway does well as Archibald’s beautiful and smart waitress girlfriend, with whom he can’t fully commit to because of his demons. The other characters are more obvious, and we know exactly in which direction the filmmakers will lead them.
Pic has an undistinguished visual style but lighting and sets are handsomely presented, and thesp performances (especially the stoic Harewood) are well-realized. The reason for pic’s title is cleverly, touchingly revealed.